Employees have access to mostly unhealthy foods at work, study shows

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Dive Brief:

  • Workplace foods reinforce unhealthy eating among employees, according to a national study by the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey (FoodAPS), the study found that foods served in cafeterias and made available in vending machines, meetings and social events tend to be high in sodium and refined grains and low in whole grains and fruit.
  • Study results conclude that workplaces can promote and make sure employees have access to healthier food choices. Nearly 25% of survey respondents get food from work at least once a week and the average weekly calorie count is nearly 1,300, according to study results. The provided food tended to be high in empty calories from solid fats and/or added sugars; 70% of the calories come from food that was provided freely to workers.
  • Researchers in the study think employers can help workers make healthier food choices by providing onsite wellness programs, encouraging “healthy meeting” policies and ensuring that cafeteria and vending machine food is aligned with recommendations​ from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  

Dive Insight:

Along with physical fitness, healthier eating remains a goal of various workplace wellness programs, partly due to the larger role employers are trying to play in their workers’ health. Workers spend eight or more hours a day at the workplace, so more employers are trying to ensure their experience in the office leads to healthy choices. However, employers that promote healthy eating but make available unhealthy foods in the cafeteria, vending machines, meetings and special events, may send the wrong message to workers. 

Nowadays, however, healthy eating is but one aspect of a wellness program; increasingly, employers are looking to expand the breadth of such programs to include financial education, stress management and behavioral health services, all in the mission to improve employee experience and reduce healthcare costs.

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