Health assessment: General Mills

Reviewed by our expert panel
Health assessment: General Mills

Our nutrition and exercise expert helps a team of workers with their eating and exercise habits.

A group of seven employees at General Mills, in south Auckland. These employees, spread across management and factory positions, have one goal in common: to lose some extra kilos.

  • Weight-loss (body fat)
  • Increase exercise
  • Improve health

The group range in age from mid twenties to fifties, and on average they weigh in at 102Kg. There are six women and one man in the group, and most are of Pacific Island heritage. Along with the weight loss group, other groups have been set up in the workplace to address their own goals, including teams focusing on general nutrition, exercise, strength or muscle building, and stretching and relaxation. Kristen MacKenzie, our expert consultant, coordinates the programme with nutritionist Carolyn Cairncross as team leader and coach for the weight-loss team.

Everyone in the group shares some common traits, including:

  • Skipping meals, particularly breakfast
  • High snacking rates – especially high sugar and fat snacks
  • Low water intake and high intake of high-energy fluids
  • Not often bringing own lunches to work
  • Some high-fat cooking methods and traditional foods used
  • Low vegetable and fruit intake except starchy vegetables such as potato and kumara
  • Low dairy food intake
  • Low exercise levels

Many of the group have low exercise levels, and some do no exercise at all. Exercise is the other part of the puzzle when it comes to weight loss solutions.

Some members of the group have lifestyle diseases or disease risks including type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. All of the changes promoted to the group were in line with current recommendations for both of these conditions; however, for individualised dietary advice they were referred to a dietitian.

Carolyn and Kristen comment:

Doing a group initiative for weight loss has many benefits. It means you have someone to push you along, to check on you and to share the burden with you. Having someone you can exercise with or team up with makes things easier (for example, taking turns with lunches). This was one of the driving factors in choosing the approach we did while aiming to meet their individual goals. These were addressed in fortnightly meetings and weigh-ins with Carolyn.

Each of the group members had tried different methods of achieving weight loss before, with varying success. But they hadn’t been able to keep these up long-term. This may have been because of a lack of support from others, following a very strict diet or exercise regimen that was too difficult to maintain, lack of time, or not understanding what healthy lifestyle choices are.

Many of us face these problems when it comes to weight loss, which is why for this group we want to simplify the process. It’s also important that all changes fit in with other factors in the group’s lifestyle such as family, culture and time limitations. We aren’t looking for a complete life overhaul with this team, we want to focus in on the individual areas they think they can change to bring them towards their goal. Once that becomes the norm, they can take the next step for ongoing change.


The group was challenged to choose some common goals for the whole group and to initially maintain them for a fortnight. These were:

  1. To eat 2 or more servings of fruit each day. The group is being encouraged to bring extra fruit to eat at work.
  2. To drink at least 5 cups of water each day. This is based on the group’s current fluid intake. Exchanging high-energy fluids for water is also important.
  3. To increase the amount of exercise.

While these three areas are very important, some other areas are discussed including the importance of breakfast every day, which can be a challenge for people who start work on a very early shift. This is expanded to not skipping main meals as well. Dairy intake should also be addressed, eg as part of breakfast or for a sweet alternative. A higher vegetable intake and making vegetables or salad the largest part of a dinner plate is also a change. Linking these guidelines back to practical suggestions is critical, for example suggesting healthy cooking methods for meals at home, including traditional dishes, and tips to reduce the fat.


Most of this group were doing little physical activity outside work hours. A big part of successful long-term lifestyle change is being realistic about what you can change, and doing a few small things at a time can be important to get you there in the long run. Each member chose a specific activity that would fit in with their shift work and family commitments. Some of the group plan to go for a group lunchtime or after-work walk.

As many of the group are starting from a low fitness base, activities have been chosen such as walking, cycling, swimming and deep-water running or aqua-walking and aerobics, and most are aiming to exercise from 3 days a week to every day.

After 2 weeks

“Carolyn and Kristen have made us focus on what we are eating and drinking as well as our exercise. Being there for each other and checking up on each other pushes you along, even when you go through a slump.

For example, one of our members had cut out everything she would usually eat or drink that was high in energy such as soft drink and chips. This only lasted a week before she felt overwhelmed and went back to her old habits. So she was told to not cut everything out and to concentrate on achieving her three goals, and to only reduce the amounts and frequency of her high-energy foods at home. This worked much better.

Another one of our group members put together a simple check-sheet so we could keep track of how much fruit and water we were consuming each day, which has been helpful.”

6 weeks later

The weight loss group has had some amazing results and Kristen and Carolyn are extremely pleased with their progress. While the programme was focused on balance and promoting healthy habits, not going on a ‘diet’, the group have lost approximately 3% of their body weight (or the equivalent of 3kg on average) and have done this by only focusing on a few small changes with their nutrition and exercise. They also felt the group support and fortnightly weigh-ins with the team were extremely motivating.

Our member who initially tried to cut all high-energy foods from her diet, concentrated on the three areas above – fruit, water, as well as walking regularly at lunchtime – and achieved a 3kg weight loss; a great effort. Another group member had her family helping her move house. For dinner a fast food meal was ordered, but she decided to have a salad instead with a small amount of the fast food. When her daughter wanted to give her chocolate, she asked for strawberries instead!

What made these achievements all the more incredible is this was all undertaken through late November and December, so the group had to deal with a number of social functions. The group reported not only weight loss over the 6 weeks, but an increase in energy levels. They also reported that some of the strategies that they had started, such as having a healthy group lunch at work or the group walks, would be continued after the 6 weeks. They felt they could continue with the changes in the long term.

First published: Apr 2007


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