It’s the first major study to look at office food — and the results aren’t pretty.

Tasty? Probably. Healthy? Almost certainly not. Image in public domain.

What can be better than office food? It’s free, it’s usually tasty, and it’s well-suited for nibbling or snacking. But it’s also typically rich in sodium and very poor in whole grains and fruit. Essentially, it’s full of the bad stuff, and only has a bit of the good stuff.

All in all, employees eat more than 1,000 calories a week from office food, researchers say, and most of it is terribly unhealthy.

“To our knowledge, this is the first national study to look at the food people get at work,” said Stephen Onufrak, epidemiologist in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our results suggest that the foods people get from work do not align well with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The team found that 1 in 4 people get office food at least once a week, and the overall average was 1,300 calories per week. A significant amount, which may well be responsible for those extra pounds, especially since those are mostly empty calories — almost devoid of nutrients, full of solid fats and added sugars.

However, since about 70% of this food is free, it’s hard to pass down. After all, who can say no to a free tasty snack? The reason why this food is typically unhealthy is quite straightforward: employers want to give employees tasty food, often sweet. But that might be causing major problems in the long run.

There is a silver lining to all of this, researchers say. Employers, who are typically responsible for offering the food, can take action and shift towards more healthy foods. We need to make employers aware of this and encourage them to offer healthier foods.

This could potentially turn a health problem upside down, with added benefits for all parties involved. So put down those crackers and donuts, and try to (at least partially) replace them with things like apples or bananas. At the very least, put some whole grains in those biscuits.

“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.

The results have not been peer-reviewed and will be presented at Nutrition 2018.

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