Your workplace is making you fat, study warns

January 23, 2019  17:40

Pizzas ordered for a working lunch. Cake to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Potato chips in the vending machine. Foods like these are all too prevalent in workplaces, according to a new study released.

For America to address its obesity epidemic, the researchers urge, food provided or purchased at work needs to improve to better align with dietary guidance.

More than 23 percent of the surveyed workers either bought or had free food at work, and it typically scored high in empty calories, sodium and refined grain, the study determined.

“The leading food types obtained included foods typically high in solid fat, added sugars, or sodium, such as pizza, regular soft drinks, cookies or brownies, cakes and pies, and candy,” according to the paper appearing in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

And Americans are piling on the pounds. Federal government data shows that almost 40 percent of adults were obese in 2015-2016, compared with 30.5 percent in 1999-2000.

Further, the annual medical cost of obesity — which means a person’s body mass index level surpassed a certain point — has been clocked at around $149 billion.

The new study is a different look at the weighty problem, acknowledging “little is known about work-site food behaviors.” Some 150 million Americans spend most of their waking hours at work — and might be prone to stress eating.

Of course, a workplace menu overhaul alone isn’t going to fix the nation’s obesity epidemic. It’s a complex public-health issue that’s not just about calorie-counting, but also about accessibility to healthful foods.

For example, a recent study concluded the overwhelming amount of food advertising that targeted African-American and Hispanic youth had to do with junk food.

Obesity rates for children are also climbing, at 18.5 percent in 2015-2016, compared to 13.9 percent in 1999-2000.

Still, workplace wellness programs — which, in other contexts, can help smoking employees kick the habit or encourage physical activity — were well suited to influence better workplace food options, researchers said.

“Incorporating food-service guidelines into wellness programs can help employers offer appealing and healthy options that give employees a choice,” said Stephen Onufrak, the lead investigator, who is a researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

But some have questioned just how effective wellness programs are. A separate study didn’t show much difference in absenteeism, productivity and general health between workers who enrolled in a workplace wellness program and those who didn’t.

The research on food at the workplace started with more than 5,000 employed adults chronicling all the food they consumed during a seven-day period. The data was collected between April 2012 and January 2013.

The study also ranked the most commonly obtained food and drink on the job, whether workers paid for them or not.

Coffee was by far and away first, consumed on 849 occasions during the experiment period.

Regular soft drinks came in second, quaffed 511 times, and sandwiches were third-most consumed, eaten 317 times over the experiment period.

In all, study participants ate or drank nearly 6,850 items and more than 70 percent of the workplace food and drink was for free.

A person’s educational background was the strongest predictor on whether they had food on the job. College graduates were two times as likely to have food on-site, compared to high school graduates.

Researchers pointed to previous studies saying adults with a college degree were more likely to work for large employers, who, in turn, were more likely to have vending machines and cafeterias on their premises.

Source: New York Post

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