Unhealthy foods in the workplace contribute to disease and obesity, study finds

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23 Jan 2019 --- US workers are consuming an average of 1,292 calories over their suggested weekly caloric intake from foods they acquire in the workplace. This is among the findings of a new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The researchers suggest that healthier food options in the workplace will contribute to the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases.

Roughly one-quarter of employed adults buy food at work at least once per week. Foods offered in the workplace are usually calorific and include refined grains, added sugars and high sodium, the study says.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2012-23 nationally representative Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey (FoodAPS). They found that over 23 percent of the participants bought food at work at least once a week. 

“Employers can offer appealing and healthy options in cafeterias, vending machines, and at meetings and social events,” says lead CDC investigator Stephen J. Onufrak, Ph.D., a researcher with CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, Atlanta, US. 

“One way to do this is by incorporating food service guidelines and healthy meeting policies into worksite wellness efforts,” he notes.

Click to EnlargeIn order for worksite wellness to improve, the researchers propose that the nutritional quality of the foods available in the workplace should be improved. Unhealthy food options promote obesity, weight gain and are poor in nutritional value and are known causes of Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. According to the researchers, these conditions represent seven of the top ten leading causes of death in the US and treating them accounts for 84 percent of the nation’s healthcare costs. 

Improving worksite wellness could benefit a large part of the US public, as there are nearly 150 million employed adults in the US. Programs such as the one proposed by the study have proven effective in changing health behaviors among employees, reducing absenteeism and reducing healthcare costs in the US.

“Incorporating food service guidelines into wellness programs can help employers offer appealing and healthy options that give employees a choice,” says Dr. Onufrak.

The foods analyzed in the study were either purchased from worksite vending machines or cafeterias, or obtained for free in common areas, during meetings, or at worksite social events. The study did not include foods that people brought to work from home or foods obtained at an off-site restaurant or retail outlet during work hours.

Emerging studies increasingly link obesity to heart disease, diabetes and premature death. Dietary habits are closely linked to our health with prevention important in promoting health and wellness. Just one high-fat milkshake can change healthy red blood cells into small, spiky cells that help set the perfect stage for cardiovascular disease, scientists have reported. 

A further study found that increasing the consumption wholegrains – from rye and oats to wheat – can prevent Type 2 diabetes. This is particularly when consumption levels of wholegrains are high, according to Danish researchers.

The results of poor diets are effective globally. Nearly half of premature cardiovascular (CVD) deaths in Europe could be prevented by better nutrition. This is the conclusion of a joint study at Germany’s Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the nutriCARD competence cluster and the University of Washington, US. Published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, the study calls for policy interventions to increase prevention of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) through better diets and education.

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