No More Donuts at Your Desk! Office Treats Are Hurting American Waistlines

CC BY 2.0. Steven DePolo

A new study has measured how many calories office workers take in each week from extra workplace snacks.

How often does someone in your office bring in a box of donuts, a birthday cake, or a batch of homemade cookies? Chances are it's pretty frequent, since baked goods are not only tasty, but also a way for people to celebrate and show affection for others around them.

The only problem is that with such deliciousness comes unwanted calories, and these add up over time. In order to quantify the effect of all these office treats, a group of researchers from the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at the office-eating habits of over 5,000 workers across the country in 2012 and 2013. They tracked which foods workers receive for free in meetings and common spaces, or purchase at work from vending machines and cafeterias. From a press release:

"The analysis showed that nearly a quarter of study participants obtained food from work at least once a week and that the average weekly calories obtained was almost 1,300. The food tended to be high in empty calories -- those from solid fats and/or added sugars -- with more than 70 percent of the calories coming from food that was obtained for free."

The most commonly obtained foods are pizza, sandwiches, and regular soft drinks, followed by (in no particular order) cookies, brownies, French fries, diet soft drinks, coffee, tea, and salad. Stephen Onufrak, an epidemiologist at the CDC, presented the study findings at the annual general meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Boston. He said:

"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. If you look at the quality of the foods people got, it definitely did not necessarily adhere to the dietary guidelines very closely."

Onufrak and his colleagues think that workplaces should do a better job at encouraging employees to eat well. One suggestion from CNN is to promote 'worksite wellness' initiatives that improve offerings in vending machines and cafeterias. An age-old strategy is to pack your own lunch and resist the urge to snack on other available foods. (This saves money, too.) Having good food in the workplace would also improve performance, with employees who are more energized and focused throughout the day. Says Onufrak,

"If you look at data on worksite wellness programs, they're effective at getting people to have healthier behaviors, reducing health care costs and reducing absenteeism. I think encouraging a healthy diet is an essential part of a worksite wellness program."

My solution? Work from home, where there never seems to be anything to eat except leftovers from last night or apple slices with peanut butter!