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Pac Bell Reaches Out on Behalf of Good Nutrition

July 17, 1986|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

Ma Bell is doing more than cooking at the company cafeteria.

Employees at Pacific Bell of Southern California are also getting a good dose of nutrition awareness through logos that point out at a glance the entrees that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt.

The goal for the company's Food for Life Program is to help employees change eating habits for the better. Now in its fourth month, the program already has created high awareness among employees.

"It's a wonderful thing," said one employee in the cafeteria lineup. "Now I can go directly for the items that I'm sure have fewer calories and fat than others."

Those entrees that do not exceed 550 calories, 100 milligrams cholesterol, 18 grams fat and 1,300 milligrams sodium are designated with a logo depicting a heart with vertical lines running through it.

Pacific Bell is one of 1,800 California corporations that provide full-dining service facilities to employees. Pacific Bell's 15 cafeteria facilities, operated by four major food service vendors, provide 11,000 meals a day to 15,000 of its 68,000 employees. The Mariott Food Service Management, a major vendor, which services 10 of the facilities, including the Wilshire Boulevard facility, where 900 meals a day are served, has worked closely with Pacific Bell in its health-education program.

The Food for Life Program also includes other components, such as aerobic classes and a Weight Watcher's program.

The program, which was actually introduced some years back but officially launched in April, goes along with recommendations by health experts for changes in life style to help prevent mortality diseases.

According to Dr. Ralph Alexander, Pacific Bell's corporation medical director, 50% of mortalities in the United States are due to some kind of life-style factor that can be prevented. Diet is one of these factors. Obesity and high blood pressure, which are among the risk factors in mortality diseases, are among those targeted in the program.

Pacific Bell is one of a few companies that maintains computerized medical data of its employees (others include Johnson & Johnson, IBM and AT&T).

Computerized calculations indicate that of 8,000 employees, 20% are obese (20% above ideal weight) and have elevated blood cholesterol. Of these, 12% are at especially high risk, compared with a 10% figure quoted nationally. According to Alexander, eliminating the risks can help prevent 10% of the cases of high cholesterol and obesity, thus decreasing the $2 million doled out annually in medical and disability payments.

Motivation Is Not Financial

However, the motivation for instituting and maintaining wellness programs is not necessarily financial for most companies, according to Alexander.

"The primary motive is to have happy, healthy and productive workers," Alexander said. In actuality, companies face increased costs for running such programs the first few years, so they must be sure the reward is worth the effort. "If given the opportunity it is far more rewarding to have healthy, productive workers. Healthy workers do better work. We are learning a great deal from the Japanese about the link between productivity and the happy worker."

It was discovered through the computerized data that one out of five employees required some type of dietary or life style alteration, whether to reduce cholesterol, fat or sodium, or to cease smoking. "The workplace is a natural place to institute such programs," Alexander said.

Food for Life menu selections featured in the Pacific Bell cafeteria on the day we visited were baked chicken, Hungarian beef over noodles and fried chicken, each at 345 calories. On other days, the menu might include barbecued spareribs, tostada, veal patty parmigiana, baked snapper, tuna noodle casserole or baked fish.

According to Ron Cowan, supervisor of food services at Pacific Bell, sauces are prepared with less fat and sodium. Low-sodium chicken base is used, and olive oil is substituted for shortening. Meats, fish and poultry are baked, broiled or steamed for the most part.

There is a salad bar daily, and a huge fruit bar displayed prominently entices diners to make their own fruit salads at relatively low cost (about $1.55 to $1.95 per plate). Soft frozen yogurt is a 3-to-1 seller over ice cream these days. Salads take a first place among sandwiches and entrees. And the club sandwiches that include turkey, ham and avocado are preferred. Hamburgers, usually a No. 1 seller in most cafeterias, tallies a low fourth in sales at Pacific Bell. The reason for the switch, thinks Larry Mobbs, media relations director, is "awareness."

"It's been a gradual, ongoing awareness program, beginning some years back with health-oriented articles in our trade magazine, and now through our Food for Life program," Mobbs said.

Here are a few healthful liquid breakfast drink recipes made available to Pacific Bell employees. APPLE OF MY EYE

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup whole milk

1 egg

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dash allspice

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