Limit junk food to get healthier workers?

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A vending machine filled with cans of soda is located in the lunch room at my workplace. Should it be there?

Perhaps not. Research has linked the consumption of sugary soft drinks to obesity, and evidence suggests obesity can affect injury risk. And, of course, obesity carries its own inherent risks of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.

Recognizing the link between excessive soda and obesity risks, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing to limit the size of soft drinks allowed to be sold by restaurants. It’s a move that city health officials claim will help confront the obesity epidemic by curbing residents’ intake of empty calories.

In an article about wellness programs in the April issue of Safety+Health magazine, my colleague Thomas J. Bukowski quoted an expert who suggested moving vending machines filled with unhealthy food to a location that would require a long walk to get to, as a means to create a healthy wellness culture.

Relocating vending machines to an inconvenient spot or legally requiring smaller soda cups to be sold at restaurants aren’t intended to reverse the obesity trend on their own. After all, nothing is stopping someone from purchasing two sodas at a fast food joint, or from walking the extra 100 yards to buy a candy bar. What these initiatives are meant to do, however, is get people to think more about their health and maybe start making healthier choices.

This is not something that can be done well through Washington-based regulation or enforcement. But employers who choose to send a message to employees and follow through with actions (“We want you to be healthy, so we’re reducing junk food available and providing healthy alternatives.”) may do the trick.

What do you think? Can tricks such as relocating vending machines have a positive effect on workers’ health? What about completely removing junk food options from the worksite all together? Should the government – perhaps through OSHA – become more involved in these worker health-related issues?

Let me know in the comments below, or by email at kyle.morrison@nsc.org.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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