A new study reports that food provided at the workplace is often high in calories, refined grains, added sugars, and sodium — exactly what you don’t want to be eating too much of.

Appealing? Yes. Healthy? Not really. Donuts and other sweets are among the most popular workplace foods, though they offer little in the way of nutrition and contain lots of sugars and unsaturated fats.
Image in public domain.

According to data gathered in a national US survey, around one-quarter of all 5,222 surveyed employees eat food offered at work at least once a week. This food typically comes from cafeterias, food vending machines, or was offered for free at work or social events. The study did not include foods that people brought from home or consumed at nearby restaurants or fast foods.

Free food accounted for 71% of all calories acquired at work because let’s face it — what’s better than free food, especially at work? The food offered, unfortunately, were generally on the unhealthy side. They were high in calories and relatively poor in nutritional value; high in sugars and fat, and low in fiber and protein. The most common food types include pizza, soft drinks, cookies/brownies, cakes and pies, and candy.

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While these are all tasty and appealing, they’re by no means healthy foods. With almost 40% of Americans suffering from obesity and another 31% being overweight, doctors and researchers are looking at possible strategies to ensure that people are eating better foods, and this could be a significant place to start.

Researchers call on employers to offer healthier alternatives during work time. Especially at cafeterias, it’s not really difficult to ensure a nutritional standard — but considering that the bulk of it is free food, employers would need to find healthier alternatives to donuts, pastries, and fizzy drinks.

“Employers can offer appealing and healthy options in cafeterias, vending machines, and at meetings and social events,” said lead CDC investigator Stephen J. Onufrak, PhD, a researcher with CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Atlanta, GA, USA. “One way to do this is by incorporating food service guidelines and healthy meeting policies into worksite wellness efforts.”

Researchers also underline the fact that Americans aren’t eating enough healthy foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC, only 12% of adults ate enough fruit and 9% ate enough vegetables. There is some progress, though. In 2013, 9% of adolescents ate enough fruit and 2% ate enough vegetables.

The CDC also has a page providing workplace-related nutritional information. These materials are not copyrighted and can be distributed and used by employers.

The study will appear in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.