Metro

Study says people eat a lot at work — and it’s not too healthy

A good way to get through a meeting? Or a threat to your diet?
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
A good way to get through a meeting? Or a threat to your diet?

Should your company replace that tray of cookies at the meeting with a bowl of apples and bananas?

That might happen someday. Researchers say that preliminary findings from a study of 5,222 workers across the United States indicate that the food people get at work is full of sodium and refined grains and low on whole grains and fruit — and suggested that companies could take steps to change people’s diets for the better.

“To our knowledge, this is the first national study to look at the food people get at work,” Stephen Onufrak, epidemiologist in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

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He said the research suggests that “the foods people get from work do not align well with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

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Onufrak was presenting the results from the research on Monday at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting in Boston.

The new study used data from a nationally representative household survey by the US Department of Agriculture on food purchases and acquisitions during a seven-day study period, the organization said in the statement.

Onufrak said in a telephone interview that the data provided “a fair snapshot of what a typical week would be.”

Researchers looked at the food and beverages workers bought from vending machines or cafeterias or obtained free in common areas, at meetings, or at workpace social events.

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Nearly a quarter of those surveyed got food from work at least once during the week, and the average weekly calories they obtained was almost 1,300. The food tended to be high in empty calories — those from solid fats, added sugars or both, the organization said.

The researchers found that more than 70 percent of the calories were obtained for free.

“We were kind of surprised that so many of the foods were free,” Onufrak said. He said it made him wonder whether people who are getting snacks “perhaps unexpectedly” at work are thinking about their impact on their diets.

“People may not even be realizing how many calories they’re getting,” he said.

Researchers suggested that employers use worksite wellness programs to promote healthy options, and improve the food in cafeterias, vending machines, meetings and social events.

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Onufrak said his results have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.