Inadequate nourishment in the workplace is causing up to a 20 per cent loss in productivity as well as morale, safety and long-term health problems in countries around the world, said a new report released by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) today.
With workers spending an average of one third of their lives or half their waking day at work, the study concluded that workplace meal programs can prevent nutritional deficiencies, chronic diseases and obesity, more than making up for their cost with reductions in sick days and accidents.
"Healthy food (and protection from unsafe and unhealthy food and eating arrangements) is as essential as protection from chemicals or noise at the workplace," the report said.
Further it said that food at work is "an indispensable element of social protection of workers," while the "rights to safe drinking water and to freedom from hunger are basic human rights."
The availability of clean drinking water and basic sanitation remain one of the most serious challenges to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at halving poverty by 2015, the report said.
The first study to examine workplace eating habits worldwide, it said that the world is facing a "food-gap" of staggering proportions with one out of six, or one billion people in the world undernourished, and an equal proportion obese.
Wealthy and poor nations manifested poor nutrition in disparate ways with malnutrition accounting for loss of productivity, illness and death and an annual loss of $10 billion in India, about 3 to 9 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
In the United States, however, two-thirds of the population is overweight, reflecting a loss of 39.2 million work days, and costing approximately $51.6 billion per year. The annual economic cost of obesity alone was estimated at $12.7 billion.
Using 2001 figures, the study said that diet related diseases accounted for 46 per cent of worldwide diseases, a number expected to climb to 57 per cent by 2020. It also said that diet-related issues accounted for 60 per cent of all deaths world wide.