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Subsidizing nutritious food to promote low-fat options


HARTFORD, Conn.—Dreams of a slightly thicker wallet rather than a thinner waistline are what Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. hopes will sway its employees to choose the healthier options at its employee cafeterias.

The Hartford, Conn.-based financial firm has 15 cafeterias in its larger offices nationwide and hires an outside vendor to operate the cafeterias with their own prices and selections. To encourage healthy eating, Hartford subsidizes the lower fat, more nutritious options by 15%, according to Harriet Aaronson, director of health services.

One recent day, the cafeteria served veggie burgers alongside regular cheeseburgers, with garden burgers costing $2.71 and cheeseburgers $3.01. Typically, the leaner garden burger would be more expensive.

If the slight change in price doesn't make a case for eating healthier, Hartford also provides employees with frequent buyer cards, which are stamped each time a person buys a healthy option. After six meals, the seventh is on the company.

Overall, the cafeteria program has been in place for several years and is just "one spoke on the wheel" of the company's corporate wellness policy, according to Ms. Aaronson.

"It's easy to say 'eat right' and then turn around and offer burgers and fries in the cafeteria; we wanted to implement something that would help (employees) make better choices," Ms. Aaronson said.

She's quick to point out that the cafeterias still feature such not-so-healthy fare as french fries and pizza, but that there are many options that are considered healthy, such as salads, vegetable platters, low-carbohydrate wraps and fruit plates.

"We like to be clear with people in saying that one (bad) meal doesn't make an unhealthy diet, but we do want to give them the healthier choices to meet their needs," she said.

If the price doesn't help dissuade employees from eating unhealthy meals, the shock from looking at the nutritional labels that come with each food choice might.

Ms. Aaronson said employees can also preview the day's menu on their own computers via the corporate intranet. With the calorie and fat information at hand, employees know what they are getting, she said.