Is Your Office Too Sweet?

Workplace Wellness

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

A Silicon Valley startup was criticized for being “too healthy.” The startup, Health IQ, is a life insurance brokerage company that offers low rate insurance for people who are health conscious.

The company’s career page read: “Every employee who joins takes a pledge to celebrate the health conscious while they work here and for the rest of their life.”

It also said: “There is no sugar, candy bars, soda (diet or otherwise) allowed in our office. If you bring some it will get thrown away.”

Health IQ also strongly stresses working out, providing treadmill desks that face each other so that employees can do walking meetings.

This company received a lot of backlash. It was referred to as more of a cult than a company. Health IQ was even referred to as a “fit supremacist.”

I had never heard the term “fit supremacist” be used before. As a company leader who firmly believes health and wellness should play a major role in the office, it kind of got me fired up, especially considering a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which found that many Americans are consuming way too many excess nutrient-void junk food calories at their jobs.

The study looked at more than 5,000 employees across the U.S. and found that nearly a quarter (22%) obtained foods or beverages at work during the week and the foods they obtained averaged 1277 kcal per person per week.

And here, in my opinion, is what is particularly troubling…

More than 70 percent of the calories obtained from this food were free. So perhaps Health IQ was on to something when they banned sugar and junk food from the office.

And reportedly, Health IQ is definitely not the only company out there striving to promote better eating in the office. While some employees may see it as 'sugar-shaming,' some bosses are cracking down on sweets and view unhealthy office treats as bad as second-hand cigarette smoke. Because these treats are delicious and usually free, I suppose some could argue they are even worse.

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 one of the leads on the study.

And let’s face it. If it’s free and sitting right there, we will likely eat it even if we are not hungry!

There are even other wellness programs enforced in an office setting which may not involve food but may promote health.

“In this case, the worker—following the advice of a company-paid health coach—had some medical tests done and discovered that he was likely just days away from a massive heart attack. Two stents inserted into his coronary arteries saved him from a life-threatening blockage,” according to a report from Harvard Health.

So it may not seem that serious, but in reality our actions in the office can literally be life-saving.

In the office environment, we tend to reward good behavior, milestones and other reasons to celebrate with poor food choices. If someone gets a promotion or has a birthday, there is usually cake and a variety of other sweets.

In reality, eating unhealthy foods is a major part of our culture during both the good and bad times. If you’ve ever had to attend a funeral, there are sweets everywhere at the reception. Or how about the good old American tradition of bringing your new neighbors fresh cookies? Imagine instead if you brought a fruit basket or even fresh kale, carrots or oranges from your garden to your neighbors instead.

The effects of sugary foods like donuts are undisputed. They may be especially detrimental to mental health. “Intake of sweet food, beverages and added sugars has been linked with depressive symptoms in several populations,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH says that high sugar diets may induce hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) through an exaggerated insulin response and thereby influence hormone levels and potentially mood states.

Bad mood states only make stress levels in the office worse and harder to manage. This can all snowball into lower group productivity and low company morale.

Excess consumption of sugar can also contribute to inflammation throughout the body which can be a major contributing factor to pain, declining cognitive function and other health issues. And some believe sugar is just as addictive as drugs.

Intentions Are Good at The Office, but The Actions are Bad for Our Waistlines and Health

Although I’m not trying to point fingers at anyone or put them on the naughty list, often times it’s the employee who brings in sugary treats to treat or thank their colleagues. A person usually does this without even realizing that this is detrimental to the health of the people they work with. And with the added health burden of sitting at our desks for several hours during the workday, it is imperative that both employers and employees do their part to make the office a healthier place.

For many of us, our jobs are in an office where we spend 40-plus hours every week. The office is a regular environment, so we have to make this environment as healthy as possible.

“People and families may make decisions based on their environment or community. For example, a person may choose not to walk or bike to the store or to work because of a lack of sidewalks or safe bike trails. Community, home, child care, school, health care, and workplace settings can all influence people’s daily behaviors. Therefore, it is important to create environments in these locations that make it easier to engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet,” says the CDC.

How Employers and Managers Can Do Their Part

  • Encourage healthy snacking and treats in the office. If you choose to provide snacks for your employees, keep fresh fruit and nuts in the office.
  • Send out regular company memos about healthy eating. Encourage healthy recipe swaps or for the next employee birthday, suggest a healthy potluck.
  • Corporate wellness programs are erupting across the country. Get on this health bandwagon. You will likely have healthier, happier and more productive employees.
  • Have company events that are fun and healthy. (For example, I love to hike and as it turns out so do many of my employees!).

How Employees Can Do Their Part

  • Avoid the temptation to bring in sugary sweets. Go for nuts, fresh fruit or a vegetable platter instead. You can even get more innovative with your baking and try baking with healthier alternatives like sweet potatoes. This sweet potato brownie recipe is delicious. I would argue these brownies taste even better than more traditional brownies.
  • Instead of doing cakes for birthdays, pool together a couple of dollars per person to buy the birthday girl or boy a massage or pilates class. I think most of us would take an hour massage over a piece of cake any day!
  • Suggest walking meetings with your coworkers. Get outside and discuss your next big project or goals. Getting some movement and some fresh air will likely boost your mood and get your creative juices flowing by increasing blood flow and oxygen going to your lungs and brain.

Being proactive about your health is about making health a part of your lifestyle - whether it’s at home, away on vacation or in the office.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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