Published: Fri, June 15, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

New study finds free food at work leads to unhealthy eating

New study finds free food at work leads to unhealthy eating

When employees spend more than half of their waking hours in the workplace, they are pushed to pick unhealthy foods and the empty calories quickly add up, Amico noted.

The study looked at more than 5,000 employees from a U.S. firm, examining food or beverages obtained at work. Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly a quarter of study participants received snack food from work at least once a week averaging almost 1,300 calories.

"Free food accounted for 71 percent of all calories acquired at work", Onufrak's team wrote in a summary of their work. The food came from a variety of sources like vending machines and cafeterias, but also events in and out of the office - some of which was free (leading it to be even more tempting).

The results have not been peer-reviewed and will be presented at Nutrition 2018.

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The study used data from the US Department of Agriculture Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey (FoodAPS), a nationally representative household survey on food purchases and acquisitions during a seven-day study period. The food rarely included foot items such as fruit or whole grain.

"While work foods aren't really necessarily a huge source of calories overall in people's diets, I think they are still a significant source", Onufrak said. "If you look at the quality of the foods people got, it definitely did not necessarily adhere to the dietary guidelines very closely".

It's not a secret that the frosted chocolate cake left in the office break room is not the most nutritious snack, but a new study shows that those extra calories from free office food might be adding up to quite a lot. They can stock vending machines with healthier options and make sure employee cafeterias offer healthful choices.

"Since we found that a lot of the foods obtained by employees were free, employers may also want to consider healthy meeting policies to encourage healthy food options at meetings and social events", said Onufrak.

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"Worksite wellness programmes have the potential to reach millions of working people and have been shown to be effective at changing health behaviours among employees, reducing employee absenteeism and reducing health care costs", Onufrak said.

The study authors suggested one solution to this problem: Employers should come forward to promote "worksite wellness" programs in order to encourage healthy eating at workplaces by including food options that follow federal recommendations in cafeterias and vending machines at the workplaces.

The researchers are now examining the specific foods commonly purchased from vending machines and cafeterias in the workplace.

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