How could giving away a few apples make a difference?

Debbie Bullock, Aviva Wellbeing Lead, explains why healthy eating initiatives add up to more than the sum of their parts.

It’s fair to say that the immediate benefits of healthy eating initiatives to you as an employer aren’t abundantly clear. Especially the initiatives which focus on giving away fruit and vegetables.

And there’s already so much advice out there on healthy eating. So, yes, you can expect to hear things like:

“It’s just an apple, right? They don’t really keep the doctor away, so I hardly think they’re going to transform the health of our workforce.”

Even I have to admit that, in a sense, this way of thinking isn’t too far wide of the mark. Because occasional giveaways of fresh fruit or vegetables certainly wouldn’t be enough to make a significant difference to the health of the people who decide to take them. But the benefits go much further than this…

It was an activity in our York office that really showed me how much good initiatives like this can do. We created a ‘4 veg challenge’, and put out some boxes of fresh produce, then encouraged everyone to take home four different items each and cook a meal using all of them. We then held a competition to judge the best recipe.

A cynic would say that all we’d achieve would be saving a couple of pounds at the supermarket for people who ate plenty veg anyway. But it wasn’t like that at all.

Someone would pick up an aubergine and ask, “What do you do with that, then?” You’d hear someone else say “I don’t like cabbage”…and another colleague would answer “Have you tried stir-frying it?” “Cauliflower’s boring”… “Not if you put it in a curry” and so on. People were swapping ideas and getting each other to try healthy foods that they didn’t normally eat.

Of course, different workplaces can do this sort of thing in different ways — some might just use their budget for a weekly fruit bowl. You might just leave the healthy snacks out to be collected, but you could also take the opportunity to talk to people as they pick them up — or even combine the giveaway with some kind of health check. For instance, we held a blood pressure awareness day and gave away fruit at the same time

But whatever you decide to do, remember, it’s not just an apple, or an aubergine. It’s a prompt to start people thinking about healthier lifestyles, which in turn can reduce potential future reasons for absence… as well as a way to add a bit of a buzz to the workplace and spread some goodwill.

Finally, think about this: absence due to illness costs UK businesses £77 billion a year in lost productivity 1. If we want to change these figures, we need to start by changing attitudes… one apple at a time.

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