Offices should rethink bringing cake into the workplace as it may pose the same harm to colleagues' health as passive smoking, according to Professor Susan Jebb, chairwoman of the U.K. Food Standards Agency.
“We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time and we undervalue the impact of the environment," Jebb told The Times.
She noted that while smoking and eating cake in the office have very different impacts on health, Jebb said workplaces can foster a “more successful” and “supportive” work environment through healthier food choices.
“With smoking, after a very long time, we have got to a place where we understand that individuals have to make some effort but that we can make their efforts more successful by having a supportive environment. But we still don’t feel like that about food.”
“If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day, but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub,” she told The Times.
The U.K. food regulatory agency and Jebb said she was speaking in a personal capacity and not for the organization.
"These comments reflect on her research in her role as Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford and are not reflective of the FSA board or current and planned FSA policy," the agency said in a statement Wednesday.
"I want to make it very clear that the views expressed in The Times article are not those of the FSA Board nor do they reflect current or planned FSA policy in any way whatsoever," Jebb said in a statement Wednesday.
A 2019 study by the University of Cambridge found that cake was displayed in the main area of 70.9% of offices, and it appeared to influence employee dietary behavior. Over half of the respondents said they were less likely to eat office cake if it was displayed out of view.
Jebb also added that junk advertising may undermine people’s free will due to its influence.
“At the moment we allow advertising for commercial gain with no health controls on it whatsoever and we’ve ended up with a complete market failure because what you get advertised is chocolate and not cauliflower,” she told the outlet.
According to The Health Survey for England, 25.9% of adults are obese with men more likely to be overweight than women. In the United States, a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 41.9% of adults are obese.
However, some studies have shown that cake in the office may have tremendous social benefits by cheering up the office environment and bringing colleagues together. Office treats like cakes, sweets and tarts are often brought to celebrate birthdays, office triumphs and anniversaries and birthdays.