Beyond Tobacco: How do You Feel About a Junk Food-Free Workplace?

Yesterday I was talking with my South by Southwest (SXSW) co-presenter, Michael Samuelson. We were taking turns spouting off about what inspires and bothers us about today’s employee wellness efforts, and there was a lot, from companies overlooking the ways their culture negatively affects individual health to companies ceding their right to create a physical environment that promotes health.

Right in the midst of this exchange, Michael dropped a bombshell.

“When I was the CEO of a Blue Cross and Blue Shield subsidiary, candy, cookies, and junk food weren’t allowed.”

And he didn’t mean the company didn’t provide them in the vending machine. He meant they weren’t allowed. You couldn’t buy them at work. You couldn’t bring them from home.

Is junk food as bad as tobacco?

I’m a sweets eater. Not a lot, but definitely every day. (I believe in having some vices.) I asked Michael what I would’ve done had I worked there. He told me that I would’ve joined the tobacco users and taken it outside. He then followed with, and I’m paraphrasing here: you know, we used to smoke inside buildings.

I’ve been mulling this over ever since. I’m an advocate of the tobacco-free workplace. Tobacco is a highly addictive and deadly lifestyle habit that affects more than just the tobacco user. Going tobacco-free at work leads people to quit and eliminates concerns about secondhand smoke.

Junk food is certainly a key contributor to our obesity problem and its related health conditions. But to what degree is largely determined by how much junk food one eats — a big difference from cigarettes. I can have a daily portion of small treats. I can’t have one cigarette and get away scot-free.

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Am I being hypocritical or short-sighted? Is Michael right that some day eating junk food will join tobacco as an unsupported public habit?

I’m interested in your opinion.

And if this type of dialogue intrigues you and you’ll be at SXSW, make sure to join us for our session: Employee Wellness: Farce or Untapped Potential?

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.

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1 Comment on “Beyond Tobacco: How do You Feel About a Junk Food-Free Workplace?

  1. To me it’s really funny how we want people to tell us what to do when we like what they’re telling us and we like to pick when we ‘know better’. I don’t know the answer in this particular situation. Most people want to make their own decisions, then have someone else responsible for the undesired results of those decisions. They’ll take credit for the desired results, but want to sue when they get something they didn’t expect or want.

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