The results of the study of 5,222 employees across the US suggest that workplaces can play an important role to help ensure access to and promote healthier food options.
"Our results suggest that the foods people get from work do not align well with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," said Stephen Onufrak from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study used data from the US Department of Agriculture Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey (FoodAPS), a nationally representative household survey on food purchases and acquisitions during a seven-day study period.
The researchers analysed the food or beverages employees purchased at work from vending machines or cafeterias or that were obtained for free in common areas, at meetings or at worksite social events. The analysis showed that nearly a quarter of study participants obtained food from work at least once a week and that the average weekly calories obtained was almost 1,300.
The food tended to be high in empty calories - those from solid fats and/or added sugars - with more than 70 per cent of the calories coming from food that was obtained for free. The researchers say that employers could help their employees eat better at work by using worksite wellness programmes to promote healthy options that are also appealing.
Employers could also ensure that foods in cafeterias or vending machines follow food service guidelines, which translate the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans into practical recommendations, researchers said. "Since we found that a lot of the foods obtained by employees were free, employers may also want to consider healthy meeting policies to encourage healthy food options at meetings and social events," said Onufrak.