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June 28, 2010

From the experts: Eat less, move more

By congressional fiat, every five years a panel of experts issue nutritional guidance to the citizens of the US. Last week, the preliminary 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report was issued - preliminary in that it is still subject to a 30-day comment period prior to a final release.

This year's report calls the American public "overweight and undernourished" and points to the alarming increase in obesity, calling it "the greatest threat to public health in this century." But the prescription to remedy the rise in obesity holds few surprises and remains remarkably consistent with prior reports: cut calories and exercise more.

The report notes that as a nation, we don't eat enough vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and our diets rely too heavily on what the report calls SoFAS - food with added sugars and solid fats - as well as refined grains and sugar. They encourage adopting patterns of eating that have been shown to be healthful, such as Mediterranean-style dietary patterns and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating patterns.

The report acknowledges that there are many barriers that make it difficult for Americans to adopt more healthful patterns and that it will take a "multi-sectoral strategy" to foster change. Here are key public policy recommendations from the report, some of which can be incorporated in company wellness programs:

  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, including safe food handling skills, and empower and motivate the population, especially families with children, to prepare and consume healthy foods at home.
  • Increase comprehensive health, nutrition, and physical education programs and curricula in US schools and preschools, including food preparation, food safety, cooking, and physical education classes and improved quality of recess.
  • For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.
  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.
  • Increase environmentally sustainable production of vegetables, fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains.
  • Ensure household food security through measures that provide access to adequate amounts of foods that are nutritious and safe to eat.
  • Develop safe, effective, and sustainable practices to expand aquaculture and increase the availability of seafood to all segments of the population. Enhance access to publicly available, user-friendly benefit/risk information that helps consumers make informed seafood choices.
  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.
  • Implement the US National Physical Activity Plan, a private-public sector collaborative promoting local, state, and national programs and policies to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary activity.
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The full report can be found here in a series of PDF files, or
Cornell student Daniel Green created a single web-based document.

Wellness resources: more on DASH and Mediterranean style diets


June 20, 2010

What broke my father's heart

Katy Butler's recent article in the New York Times entitled What Broke My Father's Heart kicks up a variety of issues related to caregiving, healthcare choices, and difficult end-of-life decision making. It is tough reading - a wrenching, sad, and frightening personal account of her father's deterioration and death - which was prolonged by a medical technology that was intended to bolster the quality of life rather than detract from it.

"...Thanks to advanced medical technologies, elderly people now survive repeated health crises that once killed them, and so the “oldest old” have become the nation’s most rapidly growing age group. Nearly a third of Americans over 85 have dementia (a condition whose prevalence rises in direct relationship to longevity). Half need help with at least one practical, life-sustaining activity, like getting dressed or making breakfast. Even though a capable woman was hired to give my dad showers, my 77-year-old mother found herself on duty more than 80 hours a week."
The article raises many questions about medical choices, along with end-of-life issues that few of us want to spend a lot of time thinking about. It offers a window into the weighty emotional environment that many of your employees face in dealing with aging parents or the terminal illness of a loved one. In reading the article, we recognized many of familiar life/death issues that we deal with on our EAP help line.

As an employer, you can provide support resources by way of referrals to EAPs, grief counselors, complex health care consultants, hospices, and local resources for the elderly. Via your wellness program. you can make information available on caregiving, advance directives, living wills, and healthcare proxies. Here's a start:

June 13, 2010

News briefs - social networking suit, trust building, oil spill resources, 50 fancy words, & more

Social networking - Andrew R. McIlvaine of Human Resource Executive discusses a lawsuit that could have far reaching ramifications for social networking sites, depending on the ruling. The staffing firm TEKsystems charges that a former employee, one of their recruiters, breached the terms of a non-compete by communicating with people on LinkedIn, many of whom are former co-workers and clients. The recruiter now works for a competing firm, and according to charges, has engaged in email solicitation. It should be interesting to see how the court rules on this issue.

Trust building - As the economy improves, it's pretty normal for there to be some disruption in a work force. Many employees stick with their current employer during a downturn out of fear rather than loyalty - most people don't want to be the newest one in the door in a bad economy, so are reluctant to switch jobs. But as the job situation improves, more and more employees may be looking to change jobs. This may be particularly true if you've had to take any harsh measures to sustain your company during the downturn. Michael Stewart of Workforce discusses this and offers a prescription for Four Crucial Steps to Regain Employees' Trust.
Related: The art of apologizing.

Oil spill resources - Organizations with employees in any of the gulf states affected by the BP Oil disaster may want to brush up on oil spill resources available from NIOSH. Resources include information and training for protecting workers and emergency responders. Also see state government specific resources for gulf coast residents: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Related HR Lessons Flow from BP's Crisis

Health care reform - A User's Guide to Health Care Reform - AARP does a good job with this guide, which breaks down information that various groups need to know: If you’re now on Medicare;if you are uninsured or buying your own insurance; if you run a small business or work for one; if you have moderate or low income.

NY's Domestic Worker Bill of Rights - New York's Bill #S2311D may prove to be the nation's first domestic worker bill of rights: "It’s estimated that there are about 200,00 domestic workers in New York, 93% of which are women and 95% of which are people of color. Because the Bill covers all domestic workers – both legal and illegal – it’s been fairly controversial. Opponents decry the increase in regulation, which some say will result in fewer jobs. Many opponents also bridle against any protection for illegal workers, feeling that offers a legitimacy. Proponents say that it will go a long way to regulating an industry that has no standards or oversight and afford basic worker rights to a largely ignored worker population. Many of those in favor of the bill also think that shedding light on some of unregulated business segments which have historically been magnets for undocumented workers will be an important step in coming to grips with the hiring of illegal workers."

Word up - How does your vocabulary fare in comparison to the average new York Times reader? Check out the 50 most frequently looked-up words on the NYT, and check out the accompanying post on the topic, Fancy Words.

Making the grade - thanks to Evan Carmichael for including HR Web Cafe in his listing of the Top 50 HR Blogs to Watch: 2010 - check out the list for more good blogs.

June 11, 2010

What motivates us

June 1, 2010

June Wellness Resources: Spotlight on Summer Safety

As we gear up to the summer season and kids let loose for summer vacations, it's a good time for your wellness program to focus on seasonal safety related issues: water and pool safety, sun and extreme heat, lightning and storm related-safety, biking safety, and fireworks safety. We've compiled a variety of resources that you can use in your summer wellness communication programs.

Water safety - Health Swimming and Recreational Water from the Centers for Disease Control offers extensive resources on everything water-related, from swimming, boating and pool safety to water-related illnesses and skin cancer prevention. Swimming Safety from Kids Health also has good information. For additional resources, see the Pool Safety Council, which is dedicated to the prevention of child drowning, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, and the Boating Safety Resource Center from the U.S. Coast Guard. This includes boating safety information as well as links to federal and state laws about boating.

Fireworks Safety - as we gear up to July 4, fireworks are a safety issue for kids - and some grownups too. That's why Prevent Blindness designates June and July as Fireworks Prevention Months. See U.S. CSPC Fireworks Information Center and the National Council on Fireworks safety.

Biking Safety - Bike Safety for Kids from Kids Health is a good overall resource, as are Kids and Bicycle Safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety and Bicycle Safety: How to Not Get Hit by Cars. Helmets are an important way to prevent injuries. There are no federal laws mandating bicycle helmets, but many states and localities have laws, particularly for kids under age 18. See helmet laws for bicycle riders from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

Lightning Safety - The National Weather Service reminds us that June 20-26, 2010 is Lightning Safety Week and provides a variety of resources on lightning and storm safety. An average of 58 people are killed by lightning each year, and hundreds more sustain non-fatal injuries from lightning strikes. In addition to safety tips, the site includes some fascinating survivor stories. Also see NASA's report on Human Voltage: When people and lightning converge. Another good resource is the National Lightning Safety Institute's personal lightning safety resources and fact sheet on lightning safety for outdoor workers.

Heat and sun safety - According to the National Weather Service, heat-related deaths are one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths across the country each year, and thousands of people from kids to the elderly are made ill through heat stress. Excessive exposure to the sun can also cause skin cancer. Sun Safety and heat illness prevention sheet from from Kids Health offer good guidance for parents. The Sunwise Program from the Environmental Protection Agency and Sun Safety from the American Cancer Society both offer good information on skin protection. The CDC Guide to Extreme Heat offers information for all ages, and for outdoor workers, OSHA offers a tip sheet on heat stress prevention.

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