It might seem like a nifty and considerate perk, but all that free food around the office probably isn't doing your health any favors.
A large study of over 5,000 American employees finds that workers wolf down around 1,300 calories per week at the office or work site, and most of that food is both free (don't tell the IRS) and junk.
"To our knowledge, this is the first national study to look at the food people get at work," said Stephen Onufrak, epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a release. "Our results suggest that the foods people get from work do not align well with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans."
The preliminary results from the research were presented at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting in Boston on Monday.
Most of the calories people get at work are from sodium, fat, sugar and refined grains and don't include much fruit or whole grains.
In other words, that handful of chips, trail mix or fun size Snickers from the bowl in your company's common area may really satisfy, but at what cost?
The study found that, on average, over 70 percent of the food people get at work is complimentary. That adds up to over 3,800 calories of free treats per month, which, if it isn't burned during exercise, is likely to be stored as fat somewhere on your body.
About 3,500 calories converts to a pound of fat, according to the Mayo Clinic, so that means all those harmless handfuls of chips and candy really can add up to more than a pound per month and weigh you down, literally.
By the same token, simply passing over the free snack schwag could keep that extra pound of weight per month off your body.
An even better option, according to the study authors, would be for employers to seize the opportunity to provide and promote healthy eating options alongside worksite wellness programs that could ultimately increase both health and productivity.
"Worksite wellness programs have the potential to reach millions of working Americans and have been shown to be effective at changing health behaviors among employees, reducing employee absenteeism and reducing health care costs," said Onufrak.
Of course, just skipping the free junk food at the front desk isn't enough to guarantee your health. It's a start, but it's important to build adequate exercise into your schedule. You may even want to take up an ambitious training plan to kickstart your new lifestyle and weight loss like I did.
One of the first steps was to cut out all those empty calorie snacks throughout the day. The best news is that it's easier than you might think and sticking to the plan is far more satisfying. Sorry, Snickers.