What's new in WELL v2: Nourishment

What's new in WELL v2: Nourishment

Tuesday, September 4, 2018
/ By:
Anja Mikic

WELL Concepts
WELL v2

We know that our diets are a critical component of our overall health and well-being. The food and drink we consume on a daily basis helps sustain our busy lifestyles. That’s why the WELL Building Standard includes the Nourishment concept, with the goal of improving nutrition and driving healthier choices.

The importance of a healthy diet

Poor nutrition is a top contributor to the global burden of disease and a modifiable risk factor for numerous preventable chronic diseases. In fact, the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) - the most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study - lists poor diet as a factor in one in five deaths worldwide. Along with insufficient physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition contributes to obesity, a major health concern across the globe. The prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled since the 1970s with about 13% of the world’s adult population obese and 39% overweight in 2016.

Though many theories and models exist, a growing body of evidence supports the role of our environments in influencing health and individual health behaviors. When it comes to nutrition, many studies focus on the physical environment while fewer examine the social or cultural environmental impacts on food choices, such as portion sizes or food advertising. Within this research, much of the focus is on increasing fruit and vegetable intake through environmental modification or policy change. Despite global differences in food preferences and dietary patterns, dietary guidelines around the world provide similar recommendations for a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains at the foundation of all guidelines.

The local food environment

It’s no surprise that the spaces where we spend the majority of our day are also the spaces where we consume most of our meals and make the majority of our food choices. While this can equate to more opportunities for healthy food choices, the unfortunate reality is that meals consumed away from the home are often higher in calories, lower in nutrients and larger in portion size. Knowing that a variety of environmental conditions can influence our food choices and dietary patterns, including the availability, accessibility and affordability of foods and beverages in our local food environment, it’s up to us to design spaces that make the healthiest choice the easiest choice.  

The local food environment encompasses our immediate, local surroundings (internal environment) as well as the surrounding neighborhood or community (external environment) and includes the availability, accessibility, affordability, acceptability and accommodation of food access within these settings. In the spaces where we work, live or learn, the availability of fruits and vegetables, drinking water, eating spaces and food storage influences our daily food choices and dietary habits. In our surrounding communities, increasing evidence suggests that the type and location of food stores, as well as the availability and affordability of products in them, plays a role in our food consumption and dietary habits.

The connection between our nutritional health and environment is multifaceted and in the  WELL™ v2 Nourishment concept you’ll find that we’ve taken a multipronged approach in addressing the many factors that contribute to a very complex and personal topic: food.

Nourishment in WELL v2

Recognizing that food is both personal and political, the global and cultural differences in dietary habits and eating patterns, as well the unique needs of individuals and certain populations, the Nourishment concept offers more flexibility and customization than ever before. The goal of the Nourishment concept is not to limit food choices (a comment strongly voiced by users of WELL v1) but to make the healthiest choice the easiest choice through intentional modifications and invisible nudges.

To offer more flexibility and personalization, the number of Nourishment preconditions has been reduced from eight to two. Fruits and vegetables remain of central importance in WELL v2 and one of the two preconditions in the Nourishment concept (N01 Fruits and Vegetables). Insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption remains a problem worldwide with 14% of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, 11% of ischemic heart disease deaths and 9% of stroke deaths attributable to insufficient fruit and vegetable intake. Thus, increasing the availability and accessibility of fruits and vegetables remains of significant importance in WELL.

With a significant decrease in preconditions comes the need for greater nutritional transparency (N02 Nutritional Transparency). We believe that individuals should know what they’re consuming and have the opportunity to make informed food choices. Though there are no longer mandatory restrictions on certain nutrients and ingredients, projects may still elect to meet higher nutrition standards and earn more points towards certification by meeting optimizations such as limiting refined ingredients (N03 Refined Ingredients) or implementing responsible sourcing (N11 Responsible Food Sourcing).

Overall, the Nourishment concept in WELL v2 offers more ways to impact individual dietary behaviors through a combination of design interventions such as eating spaces, meal support amenities and on-site food production, and supportive protocols, including advertising restrictions and responsible food sourcing. New topic areas include the provision of nutrition education (N07 Nutrition Education) -- a feature inspired by several Innovation submissions from projects around the world -- and supportive neighborhood-level food environments (N13 Local Food Environment). The hand washing feature (W08 Handwashing) has migrated to the Water concept as our Water advisors are better equipped to guide its evolution and a few Nourishment features from v1 have been dropped due to low feasibility.

Going forward, the Nourishment concept will continue to evolve under the guidance of the Nourishment advisory. This exceptional, global group of registered dieticians, behavioral researchers, urban gardeners, interior designers and public health and medical professionals provides guidance on the implementation, feasibility and impact of requirements that influence dietary behaviors.

Innovation and impact

Eating and kitchen spaces are becoming key components in modern spaces and increasingly common “third spaces” in corporate environments. Third spaces are generally informal, welcoming spaces that allow for more flexibility, socialization and collaboration. Around the world, companies like Structure Tone (US) and Cundall (UK) are integrating beautiful dining spaces and optimizing their workplace nourishment strategies. And the benefits don’t stop at the office -- we hear story after story of how employees take these healthy habits home with them and to their families!

Organizations are also increasingly providing snacks, meals and catering to attract employees and encourage work-life balance. These growing trends open the door for intentional design modifications and policies that support the nutritional health of individuals while minimizing unintended consequences.

The impact of promoting healthy dietary behaviors in the spaces and places where individuals work, learn and live goes beyond the traditional four walls. With education and changing habits, individuals are empowered with the knowledge to make better food choices for themselves, their friends and their families in a variety of settings, from restaurants to grocery stores and from office kitchens to home kitchens.

 

Anja Mikic joins the International WELL Building Institute™ with a strong background in nutrition and obesity research. She ​supports the Standard Development team in the continuous development of the WELL Building Standard™ and leads initiatives exploring how the built environment impacts dietary behaviors.