Why Employers Should Focus on Therapeutic Nutrition

Supporting Caregivers and Mature Workers Through a New Focus on Therapeutic Nutrition

Families and Work Institute has published an online workplace toolkit to help concerned employers support their mature and care giving employees succeed. The toolkit provides free, practical and high-quality information on therapeutic nutrition options and other care-related resources that can influence how quickly caregiving employees and employees recovering from or managing an illness return to work. The goal is to help employees better cope with today’s working, caregiving and aging realities through an increased focus on therapeutic nutrition.

This toolkit will be useful to you if you have any employees who are:

  • Caring for a family member or friend who is an older adult or is seriously ill.2
  • Mature workers
  • Seriously ill themselves.2

Working Families are Our Nation’s Primary Caregivers

Today’s American families are the primary providers of long-term care in their own homes and communities, with 61% of homebound older adults depending on family caregivers.1 This is an important issue for employers today, because two-thirds of these family caregivers also work.2 According to Families and Work Institute’s 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), employed caregivers are also working just as many hours a week on average (45 hours) as employed persons without elder care responsibilities.3

Hourly and lower-wage workers in particular are more likely to be in family caregiver roles, as there is a correlation between income, education, and caregiving.4 And it is not just women who are caregivers. Combining full-time work and eldercare is becoming much more common for men, with 20% of men and 22% of women reporting that they have provided eldercare.3

What Caregiving Costs Your Employees and You

The value of the “free” services that family caregivers provide caring for older adults or adults with other limitations is estimated to approach $450 billion annually—more than twice as much as is spent on homecare and nursing home services combined.5

Caregiving comes at a cost to employees. In addition to the emotional and physical toll it takes to care for an older adult or loved one, there are clear economic costs. Workers are often concerned about the impact of caregiving on their jobs and opportunities for advancement, while their duties at home often require them to spend their own resources to help care for their family member. On average, caregiving costs each employee an estimated $12,348 a year.6

Caregiving costs employers, too. By one estimate, U.S. businesses with employee caregivers suffer $33 billion in productivity losses annually.7

Therapeutic Nutrition Can Benefit Employer Caregiver Programs

Many employers are now recognizing the spectrum of workplace-related issues associated with caregiving and are beginning to act. Some 33% of large employers nationwide now offer some kind of eldercare program to support employees with caregiving responsibilities.8 According to Families and Work Institute’s 2012 National Study of Employers, 41% of employers provide information about services for elder family members (Elder Care Resource and Referral), and 75% of employers provide time off for employees to provide elder care without jeopardizing their jobs.9 Employers are also recognizing an overriding demographic reality: There are far more mature workers on the job today, and many may have special health-related needs associated with older age or chronic disease.

Despite this increased awareness, what is often missing in employer programs for caregivers and mature workers is a focus on nutrition. Yet, nutrition significantly impacts a range of health outcomes for older adults, and therefore ultimately influences how quickly mature workers and caregiving employees can get back to work.

  • Good nutrition has been documented to lead to a reduction of up to 56% in overall complications, like infections.10
  • Good nutrition can lead to a reduction of up to 50% in avoidable hospital readmissions.11
  • Download a brochure describing the business benefits of therapeutic nutrition for caregiving and healthy aging.

Why Therapeutic Nutrition Is Important

Nutrition status is a direct measure of a person’s health. Positive health outcomes in many chronic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, renal disease, and obesity, are in large part determined by compliance with diet/nutrition guidelines and the provision of nutrition as therapy. Therapeutic nutrition is defined as a medically-indicated special diet, the use of specific nutrients, disease-specific nutrition products, and complete and balanced oral nutrition supplements to help manage a health problem.

For older adults and those battling serious illness or chronic disease, poor nutrition or malnutrition can result in the loss of lean body mass, leading to complications that impact a broad range of health outcomes including reduced recovery from surgery/disease, impaired wound healing, and increase susceptibility to illness/infection, and risk for falls. It can also result in longer hospital stays, hospital readmissions, prolonged stays in rehabilitation facilities, and earlier admission to other long term care residential facilities, such as nursing homes.

Poor nutrition, or malnutrition, leads to poorer health outcomes including slower healing rates, increased risk for medical and surgical complications, delayed recovery, increased length of stay, and increased readmission rates and mortality.12

Despite the recognized link between nutrition and health, traditional U.S. medical treatment and health care coverage have not addressed adequate nutrition care or provided coverage for therapeutic nutrition. A patient’s level of ability and/or family support to manage nutrition is a significant determinant of health outcomes and functional status, particularly for older adults.

Caregiving as a Second, Full-time Job

In the U.S. today, families are the primary providers of long-term care in their own homes and communities.

  • 61% of homebound older adults depend on family caregivers;
  • 67% of the nation’s 44 million informal caregivers work; and
  • 29% of employed caregivers report needing help balancing their work and family responsibilities (AARP/NAC, 2004)

How to Use This Toolkit

Follow the tabs at the top of this page to access resources that are relevant for you. Click on the main headings in each section to access all available resources.

We encourage employers to re-brand these materials, free of charge and incorporating a company logo, if they so choose.


  1. National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP: Caregiving in the U.S. 2004.
  2. Witters D: The cost of caregiving to the U.S. economy. Gallup Business Journal, Dec 1, 2001.
  3. Aumann, K., Galinsky, E., Sakai, K., Brown, M., and Bond, J.T. The Elder Care Study: Everyday Realities and Wishes for Change. New York: Families and Work Institute; 2010.
  4. Cynkar P, Mendes E: More Than One in Six American Workers Also Act as Caregivers, Low-income, less-educated Americans more likely to be caregivers. Gallup Wellbeing. July 26, 2011.
  5. AARP Public Policy Institute: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving (Valuing the Invaluable, 2011 Update), June 2011.
  6. Evercare® Study of Family Caregivers — What They Spend, What They Sacrifice: The Personal Financial Toll of Caring for a Loved One, 2007.
  7. The MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. Business. MetLife Foundation, July 2006.
  8. MetLife Mature Market Institute & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2006.
  9. Matos, K. and Galinsky, E. 2012 National Study of Employers. New York: Families and Work Institute; 2012.
  10. Stratton RH, Green CJ, Elia M. Disease-Related Malnutrition: An Evidence Based Approach to Treatment. Wallingford: CABI Pub; 2003.
  11. Norman K et al. Three month intervention with protein and energy rich supplements improve muscle function and quality of life in malnourished patients with non-neoplastic gastrointestinal disease—a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Nutrition, 2008;27(1):48-56.
  12. Sullivan DH, Bopp MM, Roberson PK. Protein-energy undernutrition and life-threatening complications among the hospitalized elderly, J Gen Intern Med. 2002;17:923-32.

About This Toolkit

Healthy aging and recovery from illness requires a community-wide effort. That is why this toolkit provides resources to help employers, community leaders and health professionals be effective advocates for caregivers, care recipients, and mature employees in their communities.

This online toolkit has been developed in consultation with a select group of corporate partners and healthcare professionals. Families and Work would like to acknowledge their critical insight and their valuable input:

  • Nancy S. Wellman, PhD, RD, FADA
  • Corporate Voices for Working Families
  • Working Mother Media
  • National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP)

This workplace toolkit was produced in partnership and made possible with the generous support of Abbott.