Over the years, businesses have incorporated a risk-free work environment, instituted safe working appliances and educated workers on safety. Everywhere, there are warning signs of fire and other hazards. But one hazard which is almost never discussed at work is unhealthy eating on the job.
Unhealthy eating on the job is now considered to be an occupational hazard according to the World Health Organization. Food at work is one of the pillars of a productive workforce and an indispensable social element in our society. However, over the years employees have been munching on unhealthy snacks and drinking gallons of coffee every working minute.
Very few workplaces offer healthy meal programs. So workers bring in their own foods, which typically contain high amounts of carbohydrates and are enriched with sugar. Employees eat all the time; in fact, many of them have jars full of candies and chocolates on their desk which they munch on while working. This voracious need to eat junk food not only leads to loss of productivity but also to obesity and many other health problems.
In a recent national survey conducted by Healthy Americas Institute, it was observed that over 50percent of Hispanics and African Americans –compared to 37% of Caucasians– reported they drank sugary beverages almost daily.
Dr Jane Delgado, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the nation’s leading Hispanic health advocacy group stated, “For too long the guidelines on what to eat were not driven by the best science.”
Many workers are not fit, have poor dietary habits and the problem is often aggravated by the abundance of sugary foods available in the work place. Too frequently almost any achievement, meeting, discussion or seminar is celebrated with a dessert, doughnuts, coffee and other sugary foods.
Management often believes that offering food is a great way to boost workers’ morale. Workplaces now have vending machines offering every type of snack and sugary beverage possible. Some do not offer clean water so workers are left with no other choice than buying a sugary beverage from a vending machine. During lunch break most employees rush out to order street or junk food which is often high in calories, fat and sugar.
Dr Delgado further stated that, “Already, one in seven calories consumed by youth are from added sugars in products like soda and sports drinks. The impact has been particularly harmful in Hispanic and African American communities that are the subject of intense marketing by the sugar sweetened beverage industry.”
Is it possible to solve this epidemic of senseless munching at work?
Because this senseless eating has become deeply ingrained in our work habits, making any colossal change is bound to fail. Thus, making small incremental steps might improve workplace habits that boosts productivity and helps bring out a new “YOU.” Here are some unhealthy habits that you can get rid off by taking the following measures:
- Get up and stretch: No matter how busy you are at work, try and take a break every hour and walk around. Sitting all day can lead to back pain, serious weight gain and makes you very tired. If you sit around all day, even regular exercise will not help you lower the health risks. Make it a habit of walking and stretching yourself for a few minutes every hour.
- Eat lunch with others: Americans tend to eat lunch at their desk and rarely interact with others. Social isolation tends to impact negatively on longevity. Moreover loneliness can lead to depression, loss of self-esteem and even overeating. Consider lunchtime as an opportunity to connect with other co-workers and share healthier eating habits, exchanging recipes or healthy food you bring from home. Dare your co-workers to a game of healthier habits the group can agree upon, or to try healthier food from restaurants around the office. Count calories and keep a score for each co-worker, agree on a weekly prize for the winner –the one who ate fewer calories that week on the job. Make it fun, not stressful!
- Stop mindless snacking. One common reason why people tend to snack endlessly is worry and stress. Further, when people are stressed they tend to eat unhealthy sugary foods to re-energize the brain with low quality sugary foods. Often people who are stressed are also in a hurry and tend to eat whatever is available in the vending machine or on the street. These choices take a nutritional toll. The human body is not able to digest food while you are in a “fight or flight mode” and hence digestive problems also tend to be more common in stressed individuals. Symptoms like bloating, excess gas, belching and stomach cramps are common complaints in high strung individuals. If you are stressed and hungry, take a deep breath and drink lots of water first. This will partly take away the hunger and allow you to make some decent choices for your snacks. Always plan ahead and have available healthy snacks- so you do not rush to the nearest vending machine when aggravated.
- Get outside and, if possible, do some walking: Work can become very absorbing and often people tend to forget how much time has passed. It is important for all workers to get outside and get some sun. This natural light is vital for your health, happiness and mood. There is ample evidence showing that the brain produces more mood balancing substances like serotonin and endorphins, when one is exposed to sunlight. Plus you also get a healthy dose of sun which is necessary to make vitamin D. Instead of eating a snack during break, go for a ten minute walk. There is no exercise that comes close to walking for health benefits. It allows you to enjoy nature, lose weight, lowers your cholesterol and on top of it all walking is FREE. Finally walking is very safe unless you fall down a pothole, while texting.
In the past few years, many laudable efforts have been made to alter the eating habits of workers. The National Alliance for Hispanic Health has is now committed to support healthy retail options and information for Hispanics. Dr Delgado adds, “We are particularly pleased to see the recommendations limiting the amount of added sugars in our diet to no more than 10 percent of daily calories.”
The Alliance is all in favor of increasing taxation on sugary foods (teaspoon tax) to help reduce the intake of these foods. If these efforts fail, it appears that occupational health will need to enter the battle of “mindless eating” by making it a topic of discussion within the culture of each company.
Would you be willing to lead such initiative in your workplace?