A study conducted by specialists in 19 workplace cafeterias showed that reducing portion sizes and eating substituting higher-calorie foods and beverages for lower-calorie options led workers to purchase lower-calorie foods and beverages.
This led to an 11.5% drop on average in the number of calories consumers were getting per day.
The Cambridge University researchers who led the study indicated that even simple interventions like these could help address obesity levels.
Unhealthy eating, including eating more calories than necessary, plays an important role in increasing obesity rates. This, in turn, increases the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers, contributing to rising rates of premature death around the world.
The environments in which we live and work influence the types of food and beverages we consume. The study revealed, among other things, that people who live in less prosperous areas or with a lower socioeconomic status tend to have reduced access to healthy foods and higher rates of obesity.
An important setting in which interventions could be implemented is cafeterias, such as those in schools, universities, and workplaces. The workplace is the most common place to eat outside the home, typically accounting for 15% of the energy intake of working adults.
In the largest study of its kind ever, the Cambridge University team evaluated the impact on calories linked to both portion sizes and the availability of some higher calorie foods and beverages in 19 cafeterias in the United States. workplace for a period of six months. The results of their study are published in the specialized media PLOS Medicine.
The team surveyed workplace cafeterias located in the distribution centers of a UK supermarket chain, as well as spaces around the offices.
Over a period of 25 weeks, the team, in collaboration with the catering providers, replaced some high-calorie foods and drinks with lower-calorie ones, for example, swapping bacon and cheeseburgers for grilled chicken ones. This led to a 4.8% reduction in the average number of calories purchased per day.
Next, in addition to reducing the availability of high-calorie foods and beverages, the team reduced the serving size of some higher-calorie products by approximately 14% by volume, for example, serving a smaller portion of lasagna or French fries, or reducing the number of meatballs in a serving.
When both the availability and serving sizes of high-calorie foods and beverages were changed, this led to an 11.5% reduction in the average number of calories purchased per day compared to baseline. For the typical worker, this would be equivalent to eating about 50 kcal less per day.
James Reynolds of the Health and Behavioral Research Unit at the University of Cambridge, the first author of the study, noted that “On average, UK adults consume 200 to 300 excess calories a day.”This study shows that reducing portion sizes and making them available with higher calorie content in cafeterias could make an important contribution to reducing excess calories in strategies to combat obesity.
“If cafeterias in workplaces, schools, and universities implemented these changes, this could help reduce excessive calorie intake and aid in widespread efforts to reduce obesity at the population level,” Reynolds cautions.
The workplaces where the cafeterias were located were predominantly staffed by people who worked in manual occupations, who have, on average, worse health outcomes and higher body mass indexes (BMI) compared to those in non-manual occupations, according to it is detailed in the document.
Dame Theresa Marteau, director of the Health and Behavior Research Unit, another of the authors of the research, added: “Many of the measures introduced to reduce calorie consumption, such as media campaigns, have a little overall impact, But they can exacerbate health inequalities, primarily helping those who work in white-collar jobs. We need to find interventions that work across the board. Our study suggests that making relatively simple changes to menus in the workplace and other cafeterias could be an important contribution to addressing obesity in all groups. ”
The study ran over a longer period and used more sites than previous studies. Sustained behavior change is known to be a major obstacle to lowering body mass index (BMI), but the researchers found no evidence that the effect of the intervention decreased overtime during their study.
Coffee shops saw a small drop in the amount of money in the till: 2.6% when only the availability of options was reduced and a 5.7% drop when portion sizes were also reduced. The researchers suggest that this may have been a temporary effect, as the drop lessened over time, and maybe due in part to the set menu and product list that was required for the study.
“Coffee shops should be able to offset a small drop in income changing the products they sell or using additional strategies to make healthier food options more attractive” Reynolds concluded.