Viewpoint: Leveraging workforce nutrition for better health across the value chain – Unilever

By Diana Han, MD — Chief Medical Officer, Unilever

With the UN Food Systems Summit fast approaching and with my colleague Anjalli Ravi Kumar having spoken at the recent UN Food Systems Summit Pre-Summit, I thought it was a perfect time for me, as Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of a global business, to reflect on what we have been doing at Unilever to support such initiatives. One thing’s for sure, they’ve never been more important.

Unilever has invested in Workforce Nutrition for 20+ years across diverse geographies – developed and developing and at diverse worksites – offices, farms and factories. Building upon this strong foundation, we’re increasingly focusing not just on individuals, but their families, as well, leveraging both offline and online solutions.

We offer several programmes that integrate nutrition to improve the health of all members of our value chain. Our earliest programme, Lamplighter, was launched in 2001. Lamplighter was a preventive health programme that focused on three levers of change – exercise, nutrition and mental resilience, with an aim to combat non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease. Lamplighter scaled to cover 80,000 Unilever employees in offices and factories in 75 countries by 2019. A video of our Lamplighter programme from our office in Singapore can be viewed here.

Another programme we offer to enhance workforce nutrition is Seeds of Prosperity. We launched this initiative in 2014 in partnership with The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative – to improve nutritional security through dietary diversification in our tea supply chain. Workers in this supply chain suffer from high rates of malnourishment, increasing their vulnerability to both non-communicable and infectious diseases.

What started as a nine-week nutrition education programme covering one tea estate and 2,700 workers in South India has grown to a year-long curriculum covering over 100 tea estates in collaboration with seven other companies in three countries, India, Tanzania and Malawi. In two years, we reached 150,000 smallholder farmers and workers and their families, impacting the lives of 750,000 people. The programme saw positive changes in dietary patterns and workers reported higher self-esteem and loyalty– outcomes important to the health of our suppliers. A video of the Seeds of Prosperity programme from Tanzania can be viewed here: Seeds of Prosperity – YouTube

The latest example of how Unilever embeds nutrition in service of employee health was launched during COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, Unilever’s factory workers have been manufacturing soaps, sanitisers and essentials to help the world combat COVID-19. Consistent with global trends, many of these individuals suffer from health conditions, including obesity and its cardiometabolic sequelae, which are known to increase the risk of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. Reducing the pandemic health risks of our population again required placing nutrition front and centre in our health improvement programs. Our refreshed preventive health programmes launch with a worksite nutrition self-assessment provisioned by the Workforce Nutrition Alliance, which was co-launched by The Consumer Goods Forum and GAIN.

In fact, Unilever also co-leads the CGF’s Collaboration for Healthier Lives Coalition and is working across numerous areas to support healthier lives, including workforce nutrition, especially in vulnerable communities.   

We’re redesigning canteen menus, embedding our Future Foods commitments and leveraging the expertise of our Unilever Food Solutions chefs to create healthy, nutritionally diverse and culturally sensitive worksite meals. Cooking classes and physical activity resources for employees and families, mental health support, financial wellbeing tools, and community health partnerships to address critical social determinants of health are all embedded into the programme. We are optimistically looking forward to independently reviewing the health outcomes of this refreshed approach to enhancing whole-person health.

Unilever has established a strong foundation in Workforce Nutrition for the last couple of decades and will continue to invest in the critical role of nutrition in enabling the health and wellbeing of our workforce and extended global value chain.

Watch: video statement from Dr Diana Han, Chief Medical Officer, Unilever
Assam tea estate workforce nutrition programme.

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