Is your workplace harming your health?

Posted May 18

Every day you make around 200 decisions about food and hundreds more about physical activity. Many of these choices are influenced by your environments. How can you improve your workplace environment to maximize health returns? (Deseret Photo)

Every day you make around 200 decisions about food, according to researcher Brian Wansink of Cornell University, and hundreds more about being physically active. It is no wonder that we suffer decision fatigue later in the day.

Consider just breakfast:

  • When should I wake up so I have time to eat?
  • What should I eat?
  • What do I have in the house that I can eat?
  • Should I prepare it now or later?
  • Can I pack it to go or should I go without?

Our environments influence our choices whether we are conscious of their power or not.

If you work full time, you spend about half of your weekday waking hours, or 2,000 hours a year, at work. Examine your workplace environment critically and observe the elements in and out of your control that affect your health for better or worse.

Consider the following during your evaluation:

Are there any workplace programs in place that encourage you to make healthier choices?

Some companies offer sponsored wellness challenges, health risk assessments, opportunities to work with a trainer or dietitian, discounted gym passes, fitness events like 5K races and bike-to-work days.

Could you participate in these events and encourage others to do so?

Behavior change research supports the role of social support in making lasting changes in life. If you identify a co-worker to participate with and make a social commitment to work together you are more likely to stick with a challenge and see it through to the goal end date and beyond.

Research has shown that sometimes it is not always the example of administrators and C-suite executives that makes the biggest difference in influencing healthy changes at work; sometimes the example of a peer succeeding is a more personal and profound initiator of positive change. You can be an influencer or identify someone who is and join them.

Could you volunteer to organize or help with these events?

By volunteering to assist in healthy workplace initiatives you take steps to improve workplace culture and engagement for the better through example, but you also take ownership of these initiatives, which can make them more fulfilling experiences.

What is the food environment like at your workplace?

Is there food available for employees? In vending machines? In break rooms? At meetings and parties? In candy jars and bowls around the office? Are foods offered as incentives ever?

What kinds of food are offered?

What type of food do you bring to your workplace?

If you leave to get lunch or snacks, what food options are available locally?

How can you change the food environment at work?

Could you start an informal recipe swap or brown bag lunch group? Can you make healthier food choices while eating out? If you have a candy jar on your desk, could you replace it with a fruit bowl, nuts or gum?

What physical activity options do you have at work?

Do you find yourself in meetings often? Could you turn some of these meetings into walking meetings with co-workers and take a few laps around the block while problem solving and making assignments?

If you have a desk job, could you benefit from a balance ball instead of an office chair, or at least alternating with an office chair? Or how about a standing workstation?

Can you incorporate physical activity into your commute by biking, walking or running to work? How about incorporating physical activity into your breaks?

Unseen environmental forces should also be considered, such as the beliefs and attitudes of your co-workers concerning food and physical activity.

What are their attitudes about making healthy changes? Are they supportive?

How do these beliefs and attitudes influence your choices?

After considering these questions, choose something small that you can influence for the better to improve the health of your workplace environment.

Our time in the workplace constitutes a large percentage of our lives. Make the most of that time by improving your physical and mental well-being with the opportunities available.

Erica Hansen is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a master's degree in Nutritional Science from BYU. She works with individuals and businesses to make meaningful and nourishing changes that stick. Website:


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