Empty calories in workplace foods, survey finds

February 13, 2019

A majority of foods eaten in US workplaces – whether purchased or free – are usually high in salt, fat and sugar. The easy but unhealthy options include pizza, soft drinks, cookies, brownies, cakes, pies or candy.

A recent survey of about 5,000 working adults found that one in four obtained free food at work one or more times per week, averaging nearly 1,300 calories, as reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The top contributors to these calorie totals were soft drinks, burgers, sandwiches, tortilla and other types of chips, donuts and other snacks.

The study has showed that food obtained at work doesn’t represent the largest part of most people’s diets, but lead study author Stephen Onufrak, a researcher with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Obesity Prevention and Control Branch in Atlanta, Georgia has said that some employees may be relying on food in workplaces as a major component of their diet. Therefore, regular consumption of unhealthy workplace foods could mean significant dietary changes.

Using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI 2010) – which rates food types by how healthy they are – workplace foods score an average HEI of 48.6, similar to the average score found in analyses of menu items at fast food restaurants. A maximally-healthy HEI 2010 dietary score is 100, with whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables and lean protein like chicken and fish scoring high. Foods heavy in unhealthy fats, salt and refined carbohydrates score low.

With these scores, the researchers are revising characteristics of worksite wellness programs and nutrition. Onufrak has suggested a “healthy meeting rule” policy at work that includes healthy options alongside pizza or cake.

Simone French, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis has remarked that to improve food choices at work, understanding the worksite food environment and the workers’ food choices are important.

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