Foods eaten in American workplaces - whether purchased in cafeterias, or available to employees for free - are usually unhealthy, find researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Obesity Prevention and Control Branch in Atlanta, Georgia.
A survey of what working adults ate over the course of a week found that one in four people got food at work at least once, and that it was generally high in empty calories, salt, fat and sugar.
Those foods included pizza, soft drinks, cookies, brownies, cakes, pies and candy. They added up, on average, to nearly 1,300 calories per week.
The findings come from a nationally-representative sample of 5,200 employed adults who took a survey asking what they ate over a seven-day period.
Most unhealthy high-calorie foods served at meetings and events, not the cafeteria
Almost one in four (23%) of workers got food from their workplace during the week, including 17 percent who got food for free and 9 percent who bought food. The top contributors to calorie totals in both cases were soft drinks, sandwiches, tortilla and other types of chips, donuts and other pastries, burgers, pizza, burritos and candy.
The majority of this food was not from cafeterias or vending machines but offered for free at social events and meetings.
As measured by a standard known as the 2010 Heathy Eating Index (HEI), the workplace foods got an average score of 48.6, which is about the average score found in analyses of menu items at fast food restaurants.
HEI rates food types by how healthy they are, with whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables and lean protein sources like chicken and fish scoring high. Foods heavy in unhealthy fats, sodium and refined carbohydrates score low. A maximally-healthy HEI score is 100.
About 11 percent of workers obtained food at work three times per week, and five percent of workers did so five or more times per week which means those high calorie foods could be a significant part of their diet.
The researchers are now looking at characteristics of worksite wellness programs and how they can affect nutrition. For example, future worksite policies could create a “healthy meeting rule” that includes healthy options alongside pizza or cake.
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