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The High Cost of Free Office Snacks (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
26 points by timr on Nov 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

"As mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg has prioritized health initiatives, working to enact policies that reduce the size of soft drinks and require restaurants to limit trans fats and post calorie counts."

And that was a bad thing. It is not the role of government to dictate such things to the people. It disturbs me that articles are still written in which such premises are presented as settled fact rather than rightly ridiculed as components of a path towards fascism.

It's a bad thing to require restaurants to disclose the number of calories in their menu items? Is it a bad thing to prohibit restaurants from serving heroin? I'm genuinely curious why you choose to draw the line where you do.

I draw the line at harming other people.

But since it's only hurting the person eating the junk food or using the heroin then who cares? It's their own decision. Why should you get to dictate how other people live their lives?

If you want to tell everybody it's a stupid idea and it's terrible, then go for it. I'll even agree with you. But at the end of the day, it's none of your business what other people decide to do.

Yes and yes. I don't like using the threat of violence to solve social problems, kind of like what parents teach children.

The sad facts are, that the average health of US citizens is getting worse and worse every year, and the main ones affected are those who have no say in it whatsoever: children.

Ideally, the role of a government is to protect its people. The US Government also regulates a number of substances (LSD, etc.)- do you think that's also a bad thing?

I do think it's a bad thing. The purpose of the government isn't to protect people from themselves, it's to protect people from other people.

Yeah, I think that's a bad thing. You don't?

I must certainly do.

The problem is healthy stuff tends to not be shelf-stable or inexpensive or individually-wrapped, so it's more of a hassle to share.

I think free beverages (water, hot water, coffee) are a basic requirement for an office. For snacks, you could go Google and provide something managed and stocked, or just give people refrigerator/freezer/pantry space for their own, or whatever. A nudge toward healthy might be worthwhile.

Why is the most preeminent newspaper in the world still calling saturated fat "bad." It's almost trite at this point to explain that there are no studies to support this.

Seems like a sort of cultural inertia. Drives me crazy.

"No studies" at all might be a stretch, but all of the studies averaged together certainly do not support the "saturated fat is unhealthy" hypothesis.

Relevant anecdote: I once left a terrible job soon after realizing that the only thing that I derived any joy from was eating way too many peanut M&Ms every single day.

When depressed people self-medicate with food, bad things happen.

I don't know. I like the taste of junk food. A little bit of moderation plus a little bit of exercise makes these things a fine office treat. Everyone is a responsible adult; let each make their own decision on what to eat.

(Adding healthy stuff is fine too, but that doesn't mean you need to take away the unhealthy.)

The problem is that willpower is a finite resource[1]. If you have to make a mental effort to avoid the M&Ms every time you pass the kitchen, that diminishes your productivity for the rest of the day.

[1]: http://www.psychology.nottingham.ac.uk/staff/msh/pdfs/MSHagg...

This is a pet peeve of mine with free office snacks, yes. They turn the easiest path into one that's less healthy than I would normally choose, because the less-healthy alternative is free and someone else shops for it, so I can find myself, out of convenience, eating truly junky stuff that I would never buy myself. An unwanted "perk", which just makes my life more difficult!

There does seem to be a trend towards providing some healthier options at least. Sparkling water instead of just soft drinks, perhaps some fruit. I usually bring my own stuff anyway, but it's easier if the default options are reasonable. I once DIY'd that by running a little office snack coop full of stuff I preferred (people put money in a jar, and I brought stuff in), but not all workplaces would be happy with someone doing that, and it's hard to compete with free.

Yogurt is full of sugar.

So is sugar water.

You CAN buy "real" yogurt, you know?

Yes, Yoplait has 26g of sugar. That's quite comparable to 39g of sugar in a can of coke.

It also has beef gelatin in it. Overall a nasty product.

No, commercial sweetened yogurt products are. Which seems to most 99% of yogurts sold in most supermarkets in the US.

Those have little to do with plain yogurt, as it comes out from the traditional process and as we know it in Europe.

Plain yogurt has very little sugar and only naturally occurring at that:


I absolutely can not believe that natural yogurt may somehow have 0 calories from fat. Fat occurs naturally in milk, from which this yogurt was made. Therefore, if this yogurt has 0 fat, it has been removed by an industrial process. I wouldn't eat that.

The greek yogurt in my fridge has about 10% fat (7% saturated), and 6% carbohydrate (4.9% sugars). That sound close enough to natural proportions for me to believe it was not heavily processed.

Making yogurt involves adding a culture to milk. The culture eats the fat and turns it into protein. Natural yogurt has little to no fat.

Actual full yogurt is around 10% fat, yes.

This one had the fat removed (but that's an easy process, and doesn't alter chemically the base product or add any substance to the ingredients).

That said, the whole process to create this (even the fat-less version) is the basic, standard yogurt creation process known since the dawn on civilization, and not some mix of flavors, sweeteners and food processing that characterizes modern "yogurts".

"No ... 99% is"

Ok, so basically, for all intents and purposes, 'yogurt is full of sugar.'

Thus, 'yes'.

"Commercial sweetened yogurt products" are not "yogurt."

"People have two eyes."

"No they don't, only 99% of people have two eyes."

"Yeah, so basically, people have two eyes."

"No, those people with two eyes aren't 'people.'"

Yogurt is an ingredient in some yogurt products, just as pinto beans are an ingredient in some chilies. Nobody argues that pinto beans and chili are the same thing.

The above is a logical fallacy (and a distorted form of the issue under discussion).

It's the actual definition and quality of something that matters, not the popularity of a mis-representation of it. Statistics do not define substance.

Even if 99% of milk sold was chocolate milk, that wouldn't mean that milk contains cocoa. Milk is a specific thing, yogurt is another.

You're only confused in the case of yogurt, because whereas "chocolate milk" is sold with a different name than that of milk (that makes the different obvious), sweetened flavored yogurt is sold as "yogurt".

So are you taking the side of "people don't have two eyes"?

No, I'm taking the side of "people have two eyes, but a small percentage of them have one or both taken out or not functioning".

And the side of "yoghurt is a specific thing, and products based on yoghurt don't get to redefine what it is, even if they are sold under as members of the "yoghurt" category, the same way that chocolate milk being sold in the "milk" section does not get to redefine milk as having cocoa".

Yeah I make real yogurt at home and I've had real yogurt in the middle east.

You really want to make the argument that these american programming offices have access to homemade yogurt? I really am skeptical this is an option when even fresh vegetables are not normally available.

It's like you're asking why don't they eat partridge, peacock or grouse meat in order to avoid the hormones in commercial chicken from the grocery store. Kind of an absurd argument. Why don't we restrict the discussion to what is actually going on rather than some unrealistic fantasies?

Er, what?

Plain unsweetened yogurt is not something exotic, it's easily available in supermarkets...right next to all the sweetened yogurts.

You wan greek yogurt. So Good!

I agree it tastes good. But we should note that it tastes good because it has considerably more saturated fat than many other yogurts.

Fage's Greek yogurt has 16 grams of saturated fat in a 7 oz package.

Compare to Dannon yogurt which has 5 grams of saturated fat in an 8 ounce serving.

Is Greek yogurt really better then?

"A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of [coronary heart disease] or [cardiovascular disease]." http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009...

Disregarding your specific mention of saturated fat, grams of fat produce more calories than grams of sugar, so the Fage has 190 and the Dannon has 160. At that point (100+ yogurt cups to make a 1lb difference), it really comes down to the individual deciding/recognizing their body's own reaction to each macro-nutrients and fitting the right version in to their diet.

Fat-free, plain Greek and regular yogurts are actually pretty good.

Saturated fat isn't bad for you.


Yes, Greek yogurt. Usually a lot less sugar and a lot more protein. It's can be more expensive, but the extra protein makes it more filling.

I'm a big fan of sparkling water (talking rain, perrier, etc). Glad to see it's a trend that's picking up in a lot of office refrigerators.

Same here, but beware of possible damage to your teeth. My dentist saw some pervasive problems in my mouth and asked me if I consumed a lot of mineral water (I do).

"Mineral water" means many things. Do you use it as a synonym for carbonated water? CO2+H20 forms carbonic acid, so carbonated water has a dilute acid in it.

Otherwise, I don't see how mineral water could affect your teeth. Was it especially hard water, or with high concentration of other chemicals?

I really don't get it.

The snacks are there if you want them. Nobody is forcing you to partake. If you run 5 miles every morning, a 160 cal. bag of chips isn't 'bad' for you. If you are a full-blown couch potato who avoids any type of physical exertion like the plague, then yes, by all means, skip the bag of chips.

It's just so simple. So simple ...

Basic psychology. It's easier to avoid eating candy if you don't have a desk that's literally fifteen feet from an open jar that nobody is watching.

If it were that simple, we would all be much healthier than we are.

I think that basic psychology has something to say about willpower as well.

I'll gamble that it's easier for someone to avoid eating candy than for a nicotine addict to avoid a cigarette that's 15 ft. away or an alcoholic to avoid a drink while in a bar -- yet people successfully quit nicotine and alcohol all the time, and without shutting themselves in a room for life.

Those may be poor comparisons, but I know enough about psychology to know that people who want to change, do it on their own; jar of candy 15 ft. away be damned.

Willpower is a finite resource[1]. Passing by the candy jar 15 times can easily break your resistance or leave you a little dumber and more exhausted for the rest of the day because you've spent your willpower on resisting candy instead of more useful things.

As for "people who want to change...", check out the Ornish program. Patients with severe heart disease who had bypass surgery literally faced a life-or-death mandate: quit smoking, exercise, eat healthier, or die. And yet the vast majority (90%) were unable to make any of those changes. Ornish's program, which basically provided a support group for those patients, raised success rates from about 10% to 77%[2]. Again, these people knew they had to change their habits or die, and that motivation was hardly ever effective, while having some external systems to support their habit changes was massively effective.

[1]: http://www.psychology.nottingham.ac.uk/staff/msh/pdfs/MSHagg...

[2]: http://www.fastcompany.com/52717/change-or-die

Thanks for the links. The [2]: article is interesting in a number of ways that I'm hesitant to get into here. I'm aware of Ornish's research on lifestyle, and think that support groups are a great idea.

But here's the rub: Say my employer gets rid of the candy and sponsers a support group at work for people who lack willpower. That's great! But what about the McDonald's and Burger King down the street? Should my employer lock the doors during work hours in order to control the willpower of its employees who might attempt to buy lunch at such places? What about at home? Should my employer attempt to control the shopping habits of its employees - and perhaps conduct impromptu spot checks of our homes to ensure that we aren't deviating from policy?

The point is, at the end of the day, the group can only police so much. Again, support groups are great, but the choice to make a change is with the individual. The alternative is removing free will. That's all I'm saying with my OP.

As someone who smoked for 14 years, quit, and now has no problem being around smokers, I concur.

People simply lack willpower and discipline.

Good for you, but if we adopted this as an overriding principle in public health policy, then lots of people would just keep smoking.

I would also add that education and socioeconomic status are clearly related to adverse health behaviours - are you saying that poor people who don't finish high school smoke more because they lack willpower and discipline?

Simplicity is a wonderful thing...

You seem to be unaware of how some people's willpower works. If I want to quit smoking, I don't carry around a pack and a lighter and just "use willpower" to avoid smoking. If I want to break my alcoholism, I don't continue going to all the same bars and just order water.

It's easy to put people on Mars. We simply lack a good propulsion system.

Have ever procrastinated? Lost your temper? Failed to exercise?

There is a major gap between what people consciously believe makes sense and what they actually do. Rather than deny that, it's often more effective to accept that this gap exists and create systems to work around it.

It is quite true that no one is forcing anyone to partake in this bad food. There is a choice. But the author praises the policies of a mayor (Bloomberg) who wishes to use force to remove choice.

There could be other things in the chips that make them unhealthy, such as food additives or advanced glycation end products (see here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20497781). Running doesn't make you a super-detoxifying omnivore.

It's not wise for alcoholics to hang out in bars. It's not wise for someone struggling with marital fidelity to hang around strip clubs or brothels. It's not wise for people who know they have a tendency toward bad eating habits to surround themselves with free junk food.

Everything in moderation including moderation.

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