From bags of chips in the vending machines to trays of cookies at meetings, offices have become a calorie minefield.
Changing the culture, though, isn't easy. It's often the candy bar or Dr Pepper that sustains us when we're feeling the stress of scoring a sale or hitting a deadline. And sharing sugary treats often is a way for co-workers to bond.
"Our culture is to celebrate office birthdays with cake and ice cream, not with apples," said Lindsay Scherr, president of Endlessly Organic, a South Florida organic buying club. "That's the challenge that employers come up against."
While plenty of employers have hosted health fairs and launched wellness programs, only now are they focusing on workplace eating habits. Businesses are swapping out offerings in vending machines and rethinking meal choices in the company cafeteria. Some even have implemented policies requiring that healthier food options be served at staff meetings or employee events.
Baptist Health South Florida in Miami has been working to change the workplace eating habits of its employees for more than seven years. It started with introducing healthier meals in the cafeteria. Low-fat, low-calorie meals not only are marked as more nutritional, they're also cheaper.
From there, Baptist Health moved on to replacing up to half of the high-fat, salty and sugary items in vending machines with more nutritional choices. "From time to time, the changes are met with grumbles, but we're not removing choices entirely -- we're just giving healthy options," said Maribeth Rouseff, who oversees employee-wellness initiatives at Baptist Health.
Employers have found nutritional education plays a big role in how well changes are accepted. Illinois-based Earth Friendly Products started with health days once a year to emphasize nutritional eating but ramped up food education as its workplaces underwent a nutrition overhaul during the past three years.
Nadereh Afsharmanesh, director of sustainability at Earth Friendly Products, says she has removed all sugary soda and high-fat snacks from workplace vending machines and made a daily piece of fruit and herbal teas free and available to every employee.
Camaraderie plays a role, too. Fighting the snack attack is much more effective with a squad of co-workers, said Carmen Diaz, a South Florida dietician. On their own, staffers might grab that bag of salty goodness lurking in a desk drawer. But if an office creates a share shelf or bowl stocked with whole-grain crackers, fruit and granola bars, it becomes a lot easier to avoid a 4 p.m. onslaught of junk food, she said.
Cindy Krischer Goodman: email@example.com.