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Put some distance between snacks and beverages at work, researchers say

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Photo: Stacy Barnett/iStockphoto

Philadelphia – Do workers engage in more mindless snacking when food and beverage stations are in close proximity to each other? A study from researchers at Saint Joseph’s University points to “yes.”

As part of the study, researchers observed about 400 workers in the break room of a Google office in New York that offers free snacks and beverages to employees.

A beverage station was placed about 6 feet from a snack bar containing items such as cookies, chips and fruit. A second beverage station was placed about 17 feet from the snack bar.

For seven days, the researchers tracked which beverage station was used, if a snack was taken and time of day. Of the workers who used the beverage station closer to the snacks, about 21 percent grabbed a food item. In contrast, only 12 percent of workers who used the beverage station that was farther away took a snack. The closer proximity of beverages resulted in a 69 percent increase in the probability of snacking, the study states.

“It was a bit surprising that an extra few feet of distance between snacks and beverages yielded such a significant change in snacking frequency,” lead researcher Ernest Baskin, an assistant professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s Haub School of Business, said in a press release. “Environmental factors can have a fairly large influence on consumer behavior and often these factors sway us unconsciously.”

The findings support other research that indicates small environmental changes can influence behavior. Distance between drinks and snacks could lead to “meaningful weight loss,” researchers said. They recommend that employers consider strategies such as placing healthier snacks closer to drinks, and making unhealthier snacks more difficult to obtain by putting them in a vending machine.

The study was published in the April issue of the journal Appetite.

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