Budget Meeting

Chow Time at Work

It turns out that advertising for Philadelphia Cream Cheese captures a slice of reality – chow time at work. In a new study presented at Nutrition 2018, CDC researchers found that many workers routinely get a big chunk of empty calories from office food. In fact, 22% of workers get nearly 1,300 calories from workplace snacks. On top of that, it’s not exactly healthy nourishment. Pizza, soft drinks, cookies, brownies, cakes and pies,and candy were the items at the top of the list.

Weird Workplace Wellness

It seems like an odd offset to the lip-service employers offer about workplace wellness. Most of this chow time at work is all about free food. In fact, 71% of the calories people grabbed at work were free. But the nutrition value was low. It was mostly empty calories, with plenty of refined grains and sodium. Whole grains and fruit? Not much.

These data came from the USDA Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey. Stephen Onufrak and colleagues analyzed the food or beverages purchased from vending machines or cafeterias, along with free food. That included snacks and meals in common areas, at meetings, or at worksite social events.

Of course these data are from self-reports. USDA does their best to validate its methods and collect a representative sample. But human memory is fallible. Nonetheless, we suspect that the tendency might be to forget some regrettable noshing. So our bet is that, if anything, these data understate the issue.

More Cues for More Occasions to Eat

Are these office snacks really satisfying and life enhancing? Or are they just one more source of cues to soothe ourselves with empty calories? It doesn’t seem likely that the combination of workplace stress with free, but low quality food is a good recipe for workplace wellness.

Click here for the study abstract and here for further perspective. For an activist’s reflection on food and workplace culture, click here.

Budget Meeting, Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial © Kraft Foods / YouTube

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


June 13, 2018

5 Responses to “Chow Time at Work”

  1. June 13, 2018 at 8:06 am, Andrew Brown said:

    A woman across the hall from me has a candy dish everyone goes to. I decided to play token nutrition professor and add mandarins and individually wrapped prunes. Everyone loved them to our surprise. They would dig around mini candy bars for them. When I set them next to a box of donuts, though, they didn’t move, which was much less surprising.

    • June 13, 2018 at 10:28 am, Ted said:

      Sounds like a pre/post design. Thanks, Andrew!

  2. June 19, 2018 at 8:44 am, Miriam said:

    For those struggling with health issues, and trying to lose weight, coming to work can feel like walking through a minefield. Why is this permitted?

    • June 19, 2018 at 9:30 am, Ted said:

      Good question. Most people have yet to realize that food everywhere all the time is noxious.

  3. June 21, 2018 at 10:48 am, John DiTraglia said:

    ” It was mostly empty calories, with plenty of refined grains and sodium. Whole grains and fruit? Not much.” – seems to say that’s the cause and treatment of obesity.