Many people can’t resist the temptation of homemade chocolate chip cookies in the break room or leftover Halloween candy circulating among the cubicles. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 5,222 employees across the U.S., using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchasing Survey, documented this challenge. The study, published in June, analyzed food or beverages that employees purchased at work from vending machines or cafeterias—or snagged for free in places like common areas, meeting rooms or worksite social events. The research showed that these nibbles provided almost 1,300 calories a week—mostly from nutritional villains such as brownies, soft drinks, pizza and sandwiches that were high in sugar, solid fats, refined grains and/or sodium. Moreover, roughly 70% of those calories came from free food or drinks.

Since many people spend at least half of their waking hours at work, all of these empty calories eaten before quittin’ time can add up. The results suggest that employers can play more of a role in the dietary health of their workers by offering wellness programs that promote healthier eating habits and by making sure peckish employees have access to more nutritious choices, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The study results also drive home the point that nutrition counseling
services could help people to reduce workday snacking hazards (by encouraging brown-bagging healthier options, for instance) and to identify snack-attack triggers, such as stress.