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Why You Should Sit Far, Far Away from the Free Snacks in Your Office

A new study from Saint Joseph’s and Yale Universities suggests that the forces weighing on our snacking habits are more subtle than they appear.

by Nick Rose
May 17 2016, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Steve Guzzardi

Full bellies means more productivity—employers know this. Conversely, employees love free food. Not just because it's free, but because complimentary grub is a way of making them feel like valued members of the corporate team.

Since hunger is the cause of most rebellions, everybody wins when the higher-ups fork out some cash for morale- and energy-boosting snacks. And while the effort to keep staff happy is a noble one, and certainly in the best interest of the company as a whole, it might not be in the best interest of said workers.

While the link between free work food and overeating has already been established by earlier research, a new study from Saint Joseph's and Yale Universities suggests that the forces weighing on our snacking habits are more subtle than they appear.

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"Unfortunately, keeping employees happy can conflict with the goal of keeping them healthy, since increased snacking at work can contribute to overeating and obesity," the authors of the study wrote. For their field study at Google's New York office, the team of scientists homed in on one main measure; the relative distance between snacks and beverages.

They ultimately found that employees who went to the beverage station closest to the snack station were significantly more likely to take a snack. In fact, men were almost twice as likely to grab nearby food, while the snacking rate of women rose from 13 to 17 percent for whose nearest the snack station. In other words, it would appear that the mechanism inciting one to eat, and in many cases overeat, at work could be as subtle and as small a few feet of walking.

"Factors that influence consumer behavior without our full realization, like convenience or relative proximity, are especially important to study to help educate individuals about healthy decision-making," study author Ernest Baskin said in a press release. "It was a bit surprising that an extra few feet of distance between snacks and beverages yielded such a significant change in snacking frequency."

So aside from the fact that laziness might be protecting us from overeating, the findings suggest that our conscious minds aren't always steering the ship when it comes to snacking.