Cakes at the office raise waistline issue

Survey finds fattening treats dominate company celebrations

November 08, 2006|By Margarita Bauza | Margarita Bauza,McClatchy-Tribune

Kathy Angel has a hard time controlling her sweet tooth, particularly at the office.

There's the morale club's monthly cake celebration. The doughnut holes. The candy dishes.

"I can sort of plan for it because I know it's coming," said Angel, 42, of Farmington, Mich., who will try to curb her intake as another cake day approaches at work.

Angel represents 74 percent of workers who told researchers that cake, cookies and candy are served sometimes - if not always - to celebrate special occasions at the office.

While the finding is no surprise to office workers, it comes as the United States struggles with rising obesity and as adults move to take soft drinks and junk food out of schools.

Treats permeate workplaces even though 53 percent of employees surveyed said their company encourages healthy behavior through lifestyle resources.

Harris Interactive conducted the survey in May and June for Marlin Co., a workplace publishing firm in North Haven, Conn. The survey is based on 751 interviews among a nationally representative sample of adult, full- and part-time workers. The poll's margin of error was 3.6 percentage points.

The study also found that mid-size and large companies are more likely than small ones to provide employees with information and resources about healthy living.

Best places to find cakes and cookies? Workers at mid-size companies are more likely to celebrate special occasions that way than those at small companies, the survey found.

"In a world where health insurance is such a huge deal and becoming more expensive, this is something that employers have to get a handle on," said Frank Kenna III, Marlin's chief executive. "Most companies have vending machines full of sodas and candy bars. The best thing they have is popcorn. It's not malicious. That's the way it's always been."

Kenna advises companies to replace the junk food in vending machines with more healthy options, encourage employees to bring healthier snacks on social occasions and post fliers on bulletin boards about nutritious food choices. "Getting the information up in front of your employees makes a difference," Kenna said.

Will employees find nutritious foods acceptable at a workplace celebration?

"If someone brought a bag of carrots, it wouldn't go over as well," Kenna acknowledges. "But when someone brings a cake, it's hard not to eat it. The trick is to make an agreement to bring something better, like oatmeal cookies or a sack of apples. People like those, too."

Paul Fitzgerald, an attorney at the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., law office of Dickinson Wright, said he struggles with food choices at work every day.

"On any given day, one has the choice of approximately 15 bowls, baskets or jars of free candy and assorted treats," he said.

"This is not a good thing to know for the health-conscious," he said. "And if you work evenings and weekends, the traditional constraints of office etiquette - one candy per day per jar - don't apply if there's no one around after-hours to report your violation. Don't get me started on birthdays, doughnut day, pie day and come-on-and-meet-the-new-lawyers day."

Fitzgerald said he tries to work out more and eat fewer sweets outside work due to the junk-food damage on the job.

Jenny Mikolajczak, an exercise specialist at Medical Network One in Rochester, Mich., said her employer encourages her and her colleagues to eat healthfully. This goes a long way in helping her make better choices.

Mikolajczak, 28, knows firsthand how the workplace can affect eating habits. Her previous employer was not as encouraging of healthy habits, she said. "There was bad food around all the time. People would bring us food. There were birthday parties."

A recent lunch consisted of tuna, yogurt and blueberries. Her snacks were applesauce and string cheese. Her job encourages her to eat every three hours to keep her metabolism up. "Most of my co-workers eat this way," she said. "It's great. There's lots of social support."

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