A case for dietary wellness in benefits plans

Dieticians outline their new wellness initiatives, explain why they think plan sponsors should be mindful of diet, even in the age of Ozempic

A case for dietary wellness in benefits plans

A leading provider of nutrition counselling and consulting, NutriProCan Dietitians, has launched a “transformational initiative” in hopes to boosting nutrition wellness programs for the workplace.

Along with their commitment to empower Canadians to build healthy eating habits and lifestyles, the company is offering free virtual nutrition wellness seminars for workplaces with health benefits covering dietitian services. Plan sponsors who decide to enrol in the program can choose from a catalogue of diverse topics, from nutrition and mental health to disease prevention, to how to meal prep and plan and immune function.

“We're really learning, they are quite engaging,” says Lisa Spriet, co-owner and registered dietitian at NutriProCan Dietitians. “Typically, there's an additional seminar scheduled after that as well because they realize that it's just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start to learn a little bit about one area of nutrition, they want to learn more.”

The seminars, which are led by registered dietitians, will focus on fundamental nutrition principles and practical insights for building healthier eating habits. The main goal is to inspire employees to take action to help prevent disease, increase energy levels, and improve brain health, productivity, and overall well-being through nutrition.

While the seminars have a duration of an hour, they are inclusive, relevant and applicable to every employee, says Eini Alderhill, director and co-owner NutriProCan Registered Dietitians. “Nutrition is so relevant to every employee. That's really the key point there … Even if it's something like disease prevention. Employees may want to learn more just because of a family member so there could be that additional benefit, even if someone's not personally affected by health concerns.”

Spriet and Alderhill noted that a lot of workplaces already have a couple of hours per month or quarter allocated towards different wellness activities. The reason why they decided to focus on workplaces with health benefits that cover dietician services are twofold, Spriet said.

“We really want to congratulate and sort of support them in offering dietitian coverage and then we also want to make sure that we're engaging their employees in that they're not just offering the coverage, but employees are making use of it,” she said.  “What we often find when people have dietitian coverage, they don't always understand what we do and how we can help. A lot of people don't know how much nutrition plays a role in their life until they are eating better, physically feel better and mentally feel better.”

With the rise and success of GLP-1 drugs and other weight loss medication, some employees may rather stick to what they know or are comfortable with, rather than start a program with a dietitian. Spriet, however, says the jury’s still out on the science.

“We still don't have the science to say Ozempic is the cure all for weight loss or diabetes, so we still need to tread this area lightly,” she said. “But our approach to [drugs like GLP-1] is, it’s a really great tool in our toolbox. Whether plan sponsors decide to cover it as part of the medications or not, or if people are paying for it out of pocket or not.”

That being said, GLP-1 drugs don’t replace the need for dietitian counselling, Spriet noted, especially since it costs can wrack up.

“When you look at weight loss and weight loss maintenance and management, it really comes down to behaviour change in lifestyle, as well as education. So, for those who are maybe having some issues with blood sugar levels, who really are having a hard time overcoming portion sizes, or just need something to really get them kick started, we've seen some great success with Ozempic … but it costs a lot, and you probably don't want to be paying that for life.”

Spriet says she hopes employees get the chance to experience what it's like to change eating habits for the better. “That's really what we want people to feel the difference of ‘What is it like to eat better and what is it like to have a dietitian to help me along that journey?’ That's what we want people to experience.”

“I know, it might sound like too good to be true but as long as they qualify, and it's within the time period that we're offering this, there's really no costs to them. This seminar is just education. It's no strings attached,” Spriet said.

The initiative is only available to workplaces who have a minimum of 20 employees and who can prove they have employee health benefits that cover dietitian services in Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia. Limited bookings are available at only 20 per month. The free initiative ends on November 30, 2024.