While the cost of poor nutrition and diet dents economic productivity[1], UK companies continue to subsidise a sugar-laden diet, says leading corporate nutritionist Kate Cook.

New research[2] reveals that more than 80 per cent of employers include sugary snacks in meetings, instead of healthier alternatives like berries.

The research, by industry body British Summer Fruits, questioned 2,000 employees in the UK and found that employees think they would have improved better mood, productivity and stress levels at work if healthier foods were provided by employers.

The British Summer Fruits research revealed that:

• Biscuits are offered in nearly half (48 per cent) of meetings in the UK, compared to only 8 per cent where fresh fruit is provided

• Over three quarters (78 per cent) of employees don’t know who to speak to at work about introducing healthy food choices in the office

• 60 per cent of employees believe their office should offer fresh fruit

• 50 per cent of those surveyed eat more unhealthily when they are stressed at work

It has previously been reported that the nation’s poor diet has been linked to lower productivity that costs the economy (including NHS, state benefits, loss of earnings and productivity) up to £10 billion a year. Almost £7.7 billion is spent on NHS treatments that could be avoided if people cut down on fatty and salty foods and ate more fresh fruit and vegetables[3].

Yet the new research by British Summer Fruits, found UK companies are doing little to encourage a culture of healthy eating; one third provide sugary snacks as fuel or to celebrate good work. Nearly 80 per cent of all meeting room snacks provided by offices were fizzy drinks, sugary biscuits and sweets.

One in ten employees said they are tempted to over-indulge in every meeting and a third eat only because it is in front of them.

Remarkably over three quarters of employees did not know who to speak to in order to put a healthy eating programme in place.

Additionally, more than half stated that they worked more productively (52 per cent) and were in a better mood (55 per cent) at work when they ate healthily.

Corporate wellness expert Kate Cook, who has worked on programmes for leading companies such as PwC and Accenture, calls for an expansion of corporate well-being initiatives to include free or subsidised fruit: “Using sugary food as a reward can create an addictive spiral that wrongly associates sugar with spikes in productivity and hard-work.”

“In my experience, the companies that have the lowest staff turnover are the ones that really invest in their staff wellbeing, particularly giving them access to great food choices. Enlightened companies are seeing that introducing fresh fruit into the workplace, such as a punnet of berries for breakfast or for snacking on during meetings, leads to improved concentration, productivity, and a reduction in health problems and work absences. Berries have the added benefit of being high in vitamin C and other important anti-oxidants such as flavonoids. Famously nutrient rich, berries are likely to encourage a healthy immune system, which is a great benefit for working people.”

Although many companies offer wellbeing programmes such as ping-pong tables, massages and even slides in the case of Google’s Silicon Valley office, this research reveals nutritional initiatives should also be front of mind for businesses. Offering fresh fruit and other healthier alternatives instead of biscuits is a cheap and easy way for UK business to encourage a healthy, positive and productive workforce and therefore contributing towards a better economy.