GONE are the days of smokos and laughing at whoever brought the salad sandwich for lunch at the Parmalat factory in Rowville.
Instead you're more likely to find staff challenging each other in the gym or skoling a bottle of water.
Over the past few months the health and safety committee at Parmalat — which makes a range of milk, dairy and dessert products — have been slowly helping workers change their lifestyle.
Production manager Phil de Faye said the company took a holistic approach to health and nutrition so employees could take the lessons they had learnt home to their families.
The company started off with small changes like addressing mental health issues, quitting smoking (about eight workers have quit), Weight Watchers programs, wearing pedometers and taking part in a fun run.
A workplace health consultant was then brought in to help change some of the life-long habits of the Parmalat workers.
"We did lots of work on diet and nutrition," Mr de Faye said. "The big concern was type 2 diabetes but it can be controlled." He said for some workers the only fluid they ever drank was Coca Cola. In fact, there were several who had up to 18 cans of the caffeinated drink a day. Other workers would consume four slabs of beer each week, but Mr de Faye said those people were now "lucky to drink a can a night".
He said it was all about educating the workers. "For the Coke drinkers, we would teach them by passing around a container with the amount of sugar in Coke. And we told them it fatigues you, it doesn't actually lift you."
There have also been big changes to the site canteen with a 50 per cent reduction in fried food. "The person who brought a salad sandwich to work for lunch used to get laughed at, but now it's the norm."
A workplace gym also gets a regular workout, with employees often challenging each other to plank and press-up competitions.
Parmalat was recognised for its dedication at the Knox Prevention Community Model launch last week — a joint initiative between the council and Knox Community Health Service with state and federal funding. It aims to encourage Knox residents to live healthier through eating better, exercising, quitting smoking and managing alcohol misuse.
The Victorian Population Health Survey 2008 showed that more than 50 per cent of people in Knox were overweight or obese and 27 per cent of residents smoked, compared to the state average of 19 per cent.
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