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Healthy eating in the workplace


In 2016, IGD, with the help of our research partner - the University of Cambridge, is conducting research that is set to identify the most effective interventions to help employees make healthier food and drink choices at their place of work.

IGD is performing several pilot studies across a variety of food and grocery company sites, which will include a range of settings, employees and interventions. The food and grocery sector is a great test bed due to the wide range of working environments and variety of employee demographics working within them.

These will take place throughout 2016, but the sites will not be disclosed so as not to bias the experiments.

In addition, many sites are 24 hour so this will provide the opportunity to research differences in shift working and how interventions are received at different times of day. For example, we know that we tend to make healthier choices at the start of the working day and as the working day diminishes so do our good intentions1.

If the pilots are successful, the plan will be to scale up this ambitious experiment in 2017, providing further opportunities for companies to participate and contribute more to the health of employees.

Why is this so important?

We consume at least a third of our daily calorie intake while at work. What we eat and drink affects not just our health but our productivity2. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates that a company employing 1000 people, could lose more than £126,000 a year in lost productivity solely due to obesity.3

During the development of our Healthy Eating programme, IGD’s forum of industry leaders from major food and grocery companies highlighted the importance of improving the health of their own employees. Although many companies have already made significant investments in promoting health and wellbeing internally, there is recognition that many initiatives have not been effectively evaluated and as a sector it is not perceived as best in class4.

Provision of healthy meals in settings such as the workplace has been identified by McKinsey as one of the top ten ways to tackle obesity. With 3.8 million people employed by the food and grocery industry, there is a huge opportunity to identify effective interventions to help employees make healthier food choices, as well as the potential to apply the learnings within other sectors and other environments.

We hope that this research will plug some gaps in knowledge on this subject and discover some effective interventions that can successfully change behaviours as well as identifying what works for who and in which environments.

A nudge in the right direction

Although there is a recognition that employees should take responsibility for their own health and dietary habits, some unhealthy practices can be influenced by the environment and small ‘nudges’ can create behavioural change which lead to health improvements5.

Research suggests that interventions set to have the most lasting effects are those that are physical changes within an individual’s external environment6. The main focus of the study that IGD is conducting focuses on these ‘nudge’ forms of interventions. Our initial pilot studies will look at physical changes to ‘nudge’ individuals into choosing healthier options within the workplace environment.

Impact on healthy eating in the workplace

When it comes to food and drink choices, we are complex creatures and who we are, where we work and what we do will affect what we choose to eat and drink. For example it may not be the case that what motivates healthier choices in an office setting will be effective in a factory or a distribution centre.

When we work and for how long can also impact our health. Evidence tells us that shift workers are at increased risk of developing obesity and associated diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and, in addition, those working long hours (>8 hours per day) have been found to have to an increase in type 2 diabetes7.

What role will the University of Cambridge play?

In order to ensure the interventions tested are credible and the study design is robust, we will be partnering with The University of Cambridge Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU) to design and test interventions in real life settings. The BHRU has a huge wealth of experience contributing to the evidence base, both nationally and internationally, looking for ways to achieve sustained behaviour change to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities. Previous research has included work on portion size, shopping habits, and economic and physical environment interventions.

As per all IGD’s charitable research, the interim findings from the pilots will be publicly available.

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1 Kantar WorldPanel research - Total Food and Drink : Morning Occasion In Home and Carried Out Individual Meal occasions (%) 52 w/e May 2014

2 NHS choices, 2015, Workplace Overview,>

3 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2015, Workplace health: management practices

4 F.Geaney et al,2013, The effectiveness of workplace dietary modification interventions: A systematic review, Preventive Medicine 57 (2013) 438–447

5  2015, BDA Work Ready Programme White paper   

6 Mckinsey Global Institute: An initial economic analysis, November 2014   

7 BDA, 2015, BDA Work Ready Programme


This collaborative programme spans the entire food chain and has been co-created by IGD and industry. 

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