As American employers are focusing on health care issues with programs that concentrate on smoking cessation and reducing obesity as well as targeting how we can decrease sick days it is surprising to me that no one has put 2 and 2 together and realized that part of our so called heath-care crisis can be linked back to the fact that Americans just work too damn much.
With increased hours at work, we also have achieved less family time. More and more families are dual income households and often with longer commutes as work has become more scarce in the current economy. The unintended consequence is stressed, time-crunched families who are unable to get home in time to put a good, healthy meal on the table.
There are tons of last minute supper options, meal prep businesses and quick meal recipe subscriptions that have sprung up trying to fill that niche, but the fact is, when we work too much, food becomes just something we have to do before we get back to work. As a result, we are missing the opportunity to connect over what is essentially a vital function for all human beings.
Convenience food and a general disconnect from the vital process of eating, in my opinion, is a huge contributor to obesity. Add stress from overwork, a drain on leisure time, lack of sleep, and food becomes something you do as quickly and with as little effort as possible. The result is we are not intimately connected with what we are putting in our bodies.
What if, we, as a culture, made a point to create the expectation that we prepare a meal together as a family. I am not talking a stressed out Mom in the kitchen by herself trying to get a dinner on the table for everyone, I am talking kids and parents in the kitchen mixing, prepping, talking, spicing and creating something together. The act of nourishing ourselves should be something sacred, special, a bonding moment for families to nourish themselves, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
Instead Americans have all kinds of hang-ups about food. From the obsession with thinness, to parents obsessed with being super healthy, organic, anti-sugar etc, to the huge amount of casual fast-food restaurants available. We drive-by, drive-through and mindlessly ingest in front of the television. It isn't what you eat, but how you eat it.
I make a point to cook with my kids (which I am lucky to have the ability to do because I am a mostly-at-home-mom). I cook with them because I want them to have a connection with what they are eating. We have a garden because I want them to understand where food comes from. We prep food from scratch because I want them to understand what goes in to making their food. And most of all, we talk about how food makes you feel, because I want them to eat to fuel their bodies, not to fill an emotional void or release stress.
If workplaces truly wanted to invest in lowering health care costs, the first thing they should look at is the average American work week. By allowing more time off for families, you would allow a connection over the dinner table, lower stress and increase heath benefits. Companies would benefit from healthier, less-stressed employees and heightened productivity. Employees would benefit from decreased stress, improved health and a deeper connection with their families.
From what I can tell, that would be a win-win for everyone.