Study scrutinises workers’ eating habits

The eating habits of manufacturing workers are to come under the spotlight in research to explore if healthier menus and more nutritional information can improve diets.

As the debate continues as to whether restaurants should list the calorie or fat content on meals, the study by UCC researchers will examine if doing so might influence eating behaviour. Though restricted to workplace diets, the outcome could help shape developments on the wider provision of nutritional information with meals.

The Food Choice at Work study started in November at four production plants in Cork which have large canteens. More than 300 employees at each have been selected and are having their use of the canteens scrutinised, as well as their habits on days off, their body-mass index, and other key facts.

The research team led by Prof Ivan Perry and Fiona Geaney of UCC’s department of epidemiology and public health will introduce different changes at each workplace next month.

In some workplaces, staff will be given group presentations and one-to-one talks on nutrition. Some canteens will also have healthier food preparation options offered, such as boiled or scrambled instead of fried eggs, no chips on certain days, or free fruit with, or instead of, coffee.

In addition, one workplace will have detailed menus with information on calories, fat, sugar, and salt content and other nutritional information.

“There’s evidence from other research that health promotion in the workplace can have a beneficial effect in terms of health outcomes. We’ve already started the fieldwork in November and that will continue until the end of March,” said PhD student Sarah Fitzgerald.

She has been awarded a €3,000 bursary by the Nutrition and Health Foundation for her work on the study. The foundation is led by employers’ group Ibec’s food and drink industry division which lists big companies such as Cadbury Ireland, Mars Ireland, PepsiCo International, and Kellogg Company of Ireland, among its key contributors.

The hope is that the findings at the end of the research will show the impact of the various measures, which could influence policymakers on laws or regulations around the issue of healthy food and nutrition information.

At a recent hearing of the Oireachtas health committee, medical experts recommended that the calorie content of food and drinks be listed beside prices on menu boards.


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