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Canteen menu changes help reduce obesity rates amongst employees, a new study shows

Latest research has found that workers reduce their daily calorie consumption when workplace canteens serve smaller, low-calorie meals, which in turn helps combat rising levels of obesity.

Academics from the University of Cambridge have suggested that slight amendments in workplace food halls “could make an important contribution to reducing excess calories in strategies to tackle obesity”.

Individuals who regularly exceed the recommended number of calories are more likely to become obese compared to those who stick to the advised daily allowance, the study reports.

Consuming excessive amounts of calories has also been found to heighten the risks of other health issues, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer and can even trigger early death.

Previous research has shown that obesity levels are ‘significantly higher’ in deprived areas compared to more privileged neighbourhoods. Therefore, simple changes to workplace canteens could help reduce obesity rates, even in poorer areas of the country, the team of researchers have said.

For six months, 19 workplace canteens sold smaller meals and low-calorie refreshments to see whether the average employee calorie consumption decreased.

During the trial, bacon and cheese burgers were replaced with grilled chicken burgers, while portion sizes of high-calorie meals were considerably smaller, such as lasagne and spaghetti and meatballs.

The findings identify that the subtle canteen changes reduced the overall number of calories consumed in the workplace by 11.5% per day, with each employee reducing their daily calorie intake by 50.

Top academic Dr James Reynolds said: “On average, UK adults consume 200-300 excess calories a day.

“This study shows that reducing portion sizes and the availability of higher calorie options in cafeterias could make an important contribution to reducing excess calories in strategies to tackle obesity.”

He added: “If cafeterias in workplaces, schools, and universities implemented these changes, this could help reduce overconsumption of calories and help in widespread efforts to reduce population-level obesity.”

The canteens included in the study were mostly located at businesses made up, in the main, of manual workers, most of whom are known to have larger body mass indexes (BMIs) and poorer health in comparison to non-manual workers.

Senior researcher Professor Dame Theresa Marteau said: “Many of the measures introduced to reduce calorie consumption, such as mass media campaigns, have little overall impact, but can exacerbate health inequalities, helping mainly those who work in non-manual jobs.

“We need to find interventions that works across the board.”

She added: “Our study suggests that making relatively simple changes to menus in workplace and other cafeterias could make an important contribution to tackling obesity in all groups.”

During the study, the workplace canteens recorded a 5.7% reduction in their overall takings.

Dr Reynolds said: “Cafeterias should be able to compensate for a small drop in revenue by changing products they sell or by making healthier food options more appealing.”

The full research study can now be found in the journal PLOS Medicine.

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