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Public Health England and Business in the Community have launched another excellent toolkit for employers: The physical activity, healthier eating and healthier weight toolkit.


The toolkit contains lots of great info and practical suggestions backed up by a rationale for why it makes sense for employers to safeguard and promote employee health and wellbeing.  The investment really does translate into £££ on the bottom line.


I am particularly excited that the new toolkit mentions workplace cake culture.  I researched office cake culture for my MSc in Obesity and Weight Management and the results found that office cake culture influences employee eating habits (negatively) and therefore potentially undermines organisations’ ROI on health and wellbeing spend. It is really important that employers recognise that cake culture makes it harder to eat healthily in the workplace and could result in increased employee health risk and lower workforce performance.

The toolkit recommends that employers ‘begin a conversation’ about cake culture. The good news is that my research now provides evidence to support this approach and, furthermore, suggests workplace cake consumption could be reduced in a collaborative way that would not ruffle any feathers. And it’s free.

Promoting healthier choices

The toolkit’s Healthy Eating chapter has a section called Promoting healthier choices which looks at how ‘employers can create a positive environment for food’.  A checklist of positive practices features two points that struck a chord.


“Begin a conversation about how special events (birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, promotions) are marked at work. Can ‘cake days’ be shared, or healthier alternatives be provided?”
My survey of almost 1000 UK office workers found that 95% of respondents thought the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less. This is less frequent than cake was currently available for the vast majority.  The research also found that fruit was considered the most popular cake alternative while the second most popular was ‘cake, but less often’. So yes, a conversation would help everyone realise having cake once a week or less might be a popular option.


“Provide healthier options at meetings and events”. 

In my research, half (50.5%) the respondents thought meeting refreshments were not sufficiently healthy. In addition, the second most common reason for having cakes in the office after celebrations such as birthdays, was meeting left overs.  So potentially we have a double whammy here that increases health risk and employee dissatisfaction, and pushes costs up.  This has to be worth a conversation with employees (and clients?) about either ditching refreshments partially or altogether, or offering healthier alternatives.

I would also add that providing healthier eating choices and opportunity in the workplace is essential but the other crucial part of the formula is to remove the bad stuff. Providing a salad bar and free gym membership is is terrific but the effect is diminished if the rest of the office is a wall-to-wall cake fest. Removing the temptation of unhealthy (and arguably unnecessary) snacks can only enhance a wellbeing offering.  And now we know that 95% think once a week or less is sufficient for office cake, getting agreement from employees to remove most of the cake for most of the time might be easier than many employers believe.


Eating together socially can be beneficial


The ‘Promoting healthier choices’ section also mentions research which highlights the importance of eating with family, friends and colleagues socially.   Again, my research echoes this. 81% said office cake brings people together and 83% said office cake cheers people up.  Getting together socially at work provides an opportunity for colleagues to network and build relationships which is valuable in any workplace.  Reducing the frequency of office cake could therefore make it more of a special occasion to look forward to, which could enhance its social benefits even further.


I think a conversation is a great way to start.  People aren’t daft – once they get talking they’ll sort out the details (eg what to do if there are three birthdays in one week!!!).


To get the conversation started, my website offers ideas including a free short questionnaire which can be circulated to find out how people think about cake in a given team, location or organisation.


If you would like to know more about the office cake research or how to help make your workplace healthier through briefings, lunch & learn sessions or workshops, get in touch: lou@louwalker.com or visit my website: louwalker.com.

You can also download the research report It’s time to rethink office cake from www.louwalker.com.


Yesterday I gave a TED talk at TEDx University of Chester.

What an honour and what an experience! 

As a graduate of the University of Chester I was invited to speak about the research into office cake culture I conducted as part of my MSc in Obesity & Weight Management. The event’s official theme was ‘Ideas connected’ and talks covered a range of topics including tackling plastic overuse, theatre as a tool in deradicalisation and ‘inventapreneurism’.  But a common theme was that we need to start conversations about difficult situations to help people invest in the solutions.

My talk aimed to help people understand that obesity is more complicated than eating too much and moving too little, and examined the roles of our environment, social influencing and our neurophysiology in causing obesity. The main messages were:  

1. By subtly changing the environments we are in control of, we can make it easier for ourselves to make healthy choices more often, without having to rely on willpower. By making our workplaces less obesogenic we could all make a significant improvement to public health in the UK.
2. We need to start a conversation with colleagues about how often we really want office cake. 95% of office workers thought the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less  but this is less than the current availability in most workplaces. People don’t find it easy to speak up when colleagues are apparently enjoying cake (even if they don’t really want it) 
3. Discuss with colleagues how we might get the benefits of getting together socially at work, without cake.  
4. By starting a conversation about something specific like office cake, we can all contribute to tackling the wider obesity problem.

The final call to action was for employers, employees, students and group members to start a conversation about office cake. After all, we have nothing to lose but the weight, and we all have our health to gain.

I will update this blog with a link to the talk on youtube when it is available.



I was very excited when the email arrived saying my office cake research had been short-listed for an Inspiring Wellbeing Award. It’s obviously nice that one’s own work has been recognised, but even better when it’s recognised as being potentially useful.  

Inspiring Wellbeing Awards are run in conjunction with the annual Wellbeing Symposium which focuses on wellbeing at work, in the community and for individuals.

The award was presented by Christine Hancock, director of C3 Collaborating for Health, a London-based global charity that addresses risk factors in non-communicable disease.

Said Christine, “C3 was delighted to be asked to help judge the Inspiring Wellbeing Awards. To see Lou’s important research on office cake consumption among the submissions was fantastic. We were so pleased to recommend her for an award and happy to see that colleagues agreed and her research was ‘Highly Commended’ by the panel of judges.” 

Caption: (L-R), Christine Hancock, Lou Walker.




When I was planning my office cake research, cake-related discussions with friends and colleagues often led to the same full and frank discussion.

Some argued that if you eat too much cake or other snacks (at work or elsewhere), you risk weight gain. This carries health risks for individuals and productivity-related consequences for employers. The counter-argument was that office cake provides a valuable chance for colleagues to take a break to catch up with colleagues and cross-fertilise ideas. Obviously, I had no idea what the research would tell us.

Well, the results suggest there’s merit in both positions and, more importantly,  both provide insights that could help improve workplace health and wellbeing, physical and mental.

The research surveyed almost 1000 UK office workers about their attitudes, habits and opinions around workplace cake culture. Cake was available to most respondents (86%) at least ‘once or twice a week’.  31% said office cake had contributed to weight gain, 38% said it made it harder to eat healthily in the workplace and 59% said it made it harder to stick to a weight loss diet. Round one to the ‘office cake is bad’ camp.

But. 61% thought office cake was a good thing, 81% said it brings people together and 83% said it cheers people up. Round two to the ‘office cake is good’ camp.

So how often did the respondents think would be ideal for office cake? This is the ‘wow!’ piece of data that could make some real difference to workplace health. Almost all  respondents (95%) said the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less.  41% said once a month.

Make workplace cake special again

So, the evidence is telling us that workplace cake affects many people’s efforts to eat healthily at work and control their weight, yet it also provides a popular way to boost morale and build relationships. But however they felt about workplace cake, almost all respondents considered cake once a week or less to be often enough.

Add all this together and what have we got?

The evidence suggests we could reduce workplace health risk and enhance social benefits while having office cake just once a week.  And it seems this would be acceptable to the vast majority of employees.  

To make this work we’d need small changes to the way office cake happens at most workplaces. For example, displaying cakes all day on a table in the main working area (as happens for nearly three quarters of respondents) encourages mindless grazing and doesn’t provide the social benefits people enjoy. Instead, choose a day and time for cake every week/month/whatever people agree. Until cake time, keep the cakes out of sight (and out of mind) in opaque cake tins, in cupboards.  When cake o’clock has passed, pack the cakes away. This would make cake special again, a treat to look forward to and encourage social interaction.  More ideas can be found in the research report It’s time to rethink office cake.

Employers can have confidence

This research investigated the opinions of office workers so might not translate to other working environments. Even so, I hope it gives organisations the confidence to at least start a conversation among colleagues so they can explore their own cake culture. There is a strong chance they will realise they are all in the “office cake is great, but once a week is enough” camp. Then they might feel able to discuss ways to make this happen. Supportive management can encourage and endorse but won’t need to regulate.

Develop a culture of health in the workplace

In 2013, the World Health Organisation calculated we spend two thirds of our waking hours at work.  So a healthy working environment makes a significant contribution to overall public health. And starting a conversation about office cake culture is a giant step in a healthier direction.

Find out more about the research, how to start a conversation and what small changes can help organisations rethink office cake culture harmoniously at www.louwalker.com.

Blog, Press releases

New research finds office workers don’t want as much cake in the workplace

Sticking to healthy New Year resolutions could be made easier for UK office workers, with new research finding they want cake at work less often than it is currently available.

Almost all (95%) of the 940 respondents in an online survey said the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less; 41% said once a month would be ideal. This is less frequent than the current availability of at least once a week for the majority (86%) of respondents.  

‘Office cake culture’ refers to the popular phenomenon where work colleagues and managers provide cake and other sweet treats for colleagues to share.

Conducted by Lou Walker as part of her MSc in Obesity & Weight Management at the University of Chester, the survey asked respondents about their own office cake habits and attitudes, and their opinions on office cake in general. It is believed to be the first academic study to explore office cake culture.

Respondents identified negative consequences of office cake such as weight gain (31% of respondents), difficulty eating healthily at work (38% of respondents) and difficulty sticking to a weight loss diet (59% of respondents). Despite this, a majority of respondents said office cake was ‘a good thing’ (61%), brought people together (81%) and cheered everyone up (83%).  

The research report, It’s time to rethink office cake, concludes office cake culture influences employee eating habits and therefore has implications for workplace health and wellbeing and public health. It also suggests the new data gives organisations a feasible opportunity to rethink office cake culture to achieve a healthier, more productive balance between its social benefits and health risks.

According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the UK has the highest obesity rates in Western Europe, with over two thirds of the population either overweight or obese. Obesity is one of the most common workplace health problems and is strongly linked to sickness absence. Workers spend two thirds of their waking hours at work so the workplace provides an important opportunity to improve health across socioeconomic groups, ages, ethnicities, education levels, geographies and industrial sectors.

Researcher Lou Walker said: “I hope this new evidence will prompt people to start a conversation about the cake culture in their own workplaces.  If we now know that work colleagues enjoy getting together for cake but they think once a week or once a month is enough, it will be easier for them to encourage each other to keep cake for weekly or monthly occasions. This would make office cake a treat again and reduce sugar consumption without anyone feeling deprived.

“Rethinking office cake culture could contribute to a culture of health in the workplace which research shows has several benefits for both employers and employees.  Creating a culture of health in the workplace also has implications for public health.”

The It’s time to rethink office cake report makes practical recommendations.  These focus on small changes to the workplace environment following the principles of nudge theory. Using colleague collaboration rather than policy decisions from management, the changes do not rely on individuals’ willpower to resist cake. They do not even remove unhealthy options. Instead they make the healthier options the easy options.   For example:

·         Encourage work groups to discuss how often they actually want office cake. It may not be as often as it is currently available.

·         Make cake special again. Propose that work groups have a weekly ‘cake day’ (or less often if they prefer). Birthdays and special occasions could all be celebrated on that day.

·         Encourage a conversation about whether edible treats from holidays and business trips abroad could also be saved for ‘cake day’.

·         Stop having cakes openly displayed all day – research shows this encourages people to eat whether or not they are hungry. Instead, agree a ‘cake time’. Until cake time, store cakes out of sight, ideally in opaque containers in a cupboard. This would prevent mindless grazing and enhance the benefits of coming together for a sociable break at the agreed day and time.

·         Use the out of sight, out of mind approach to workplace kitchens. Keep surfaces clear of unhealthy food. Make healthy alternatives more prominent, convenient and accessible.

·         Encourage cake providers to offer a healthier alternative as well as cake. Depending on the preferences of the people involved, this could be something savoury, fruit, nuts or vegetables and dips. In the survey, 52% of respondents said fruit would be a good alternative.

·         To get the social benefits of eating and talking together, suggest a team picnic lunch. This way the food is instead of, rather than as well as, a meal.

·         Over half the survey respondents thought meeting refreshments in their workplace did not offer enough healthy options. Consult employees (and clients) on healthier alternatives. Are food refreshments always needed?


Notes to editors

  • For further information please contact:
    Lou Walker on 07764 189516 or lou@louwalker.com
  • Click here to access the It’s time to rethink office cake
  • The research study was approved by the University of Chester Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Life Sciences Research Ethics Committee, reference 1241/17/LW/CSN




Every organisation in the UK can do something (at no cost) to rethink their cake culture. This could have an impact on the UK’s health and consequently the NHS. Oh – and it would probably favourably impact their bottom line, too – but that’s also another blog.

1. People don’t want office cake as often as it’s currently available. In the research, 95% said the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less. 41% said once a month was enough. (People do like that cake culture provides a sociable get together, however. But surely we could find other ways to do that that does not involve unhealthy food?!)
2. According to the World Health Organisation, we spend two thirds of our waking hours at work. If the workplace was somewhere it was easy to make healthy choices (fewer opportunities to eat extra sugar and calories for example) it would reduce exposure to tempting unhealthy food. The workplace could become a sanctuary from an environment that contrives to make us fat and ill.
3. In the UK, the workplace gives access to 75% of the population. That’s an opportunity to improve health across the UK’s socio-economic groups, educational levels, industrial sectors, age groups and ethnicities.

So – let’s start a conversation about office cake in Britain’s workplaces. Can employers ask employees how often they actually want cake? If the office cake survey results are representative the whole of the UK, reducing the amount of office cake to improve health will be straightforward.  

And it might make office cake a treat again. And British business, productivity and the NHS might all benefit.

A few weeks ago, on Saturday 18th November 2017, the BBC news was talking about people losing Universal Credit payments over Christmas because they’re paid weekly, a Government consultation on a levy on plastic food packaging and the non-coup in Zimbabwe. They were all issues that affect lives and the future of the planet – ‘proper’ issues that we should all be concerned about. Nothing as frivolous as whether or not people eat cake at work.

But also on the news that day was a story about the NHS and lack of funding for social care. And in a way this, sadly, was not really news because stories about lack of funding, service cuts and impending collapse of our health and social care system occur so regularly. This is why I’m making a fuss about office cake. Because the UK’s office cake culture is part of a complex systemic behavioural problem that’s causing ill-health and pulling the NHS down.

We don’t have to veto office cake

BUT the good news is I think we can do something about this by rethinking workplace cake culture – and the other good news is that, no I’m not advocating banning office cake. We don’t need to because 95% of the 1000 people who took part in my recent research into office cake culture said they only wanted office cake once a week or less. 41% said once a month would be enough. So reducing office cake occasions to the levels that people seem to want would be a significant reduction.

Let me explain the link that I think exists between office cake culture and the NHS struggles.

As long as you are healthy, a slice of cake every now and again won’t hurt. Left to its own devices, your brilliant body will keep blood glucose steady and automatically adjust food intake and physical activity over the next few hours and days to keep body weight constant. The odd sugary, calorific splurge is deal-able with. But, be honest – most of us don’t have the odd splurge. As far as our bodies are concerned, the modern diet – full of processed foods and regular snacking – effectively means we splurge several times a day. And whatever the definition of ‘a splurge’, the fact that two thirds of the UK population are overweight or obese suggests we’re overdoing the splurging. With rising obesity comes increased type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses – including thirteen cancers according to the World Cancer Research Fund. The splurges are coming too often for bodies to automatically adjust and weight gain and other metabolic illnesses are the result.

You may be one of the remaining third of our population that manages to stay healthy with a healthy weight for your height, but you are in a fortunate minority that is shrinking year on year.

Over-indulgence is a normal human response in an environment that encourages us to over-indulge
The ingredients in and our associations with cake and sweet, processed foods make it very easy to over-indulge. Evidence backs this up: cake and sweet, baked goods are the primary contributors to snack food. Obviously, food manufacturers design their products to be delicious and moreish to encourage us to eat more of them. This is the perfectly legal market economy (but don’t forget that food and drink companies exist to make profits, not protect your health, whatever their marketing says). Cake and sweet things are particularly delicious and moreish although of course for some it’s crisps or samosas.

Even the sight, smell or thought of food we like makes us feel hungry and want to eat. Just think about your favourite foods or even just the packaging and marketing of your favourite foods… is your mouth watering yet? Our brains recognise something we’ve eaten before that tasted delicious and gave us pleasure and the pleasure and reward centres in our brains respond by making us want to recreate that pleasure by eating it again. So wanting to eat a cake or doughnut is a natural human response to delicious food that we just KNOW will hit the spot and give us a dopamine hit.

So when there’s a spread of cakes, tins of Quality Street or tubs of Haribo on display in the office, is it surprising that people eat it? We’re not off the hook when we walk down the high street or the through the train station where every other retail outlet is flaunting fabulous foodie treats. And when we get home TV programmes and adverts bombard us with reminders that something delicious is never far from our tingling taste buds. We’re persuaded that snacking and indulging in a quick energy hit is healthy and, worryingly, normal. Even more worryingly, I get regular reports of weekly cake rotas at schools and kids’ sports clubs – and this is nothing to do with fundraising; it’s just that it seems we cannot be more than 30 mins from our next cake fix.

Some respondents to the office cake research said cake and confectionery are available so often, they are not a treat any more. It’s no longer an indulgence to be anticipated and savoured. It’s something that happens several times a day, every day for so many people. And it’s making us increasingly overweight and unwell. And the dear NHS is struggling.

So. While politicians, food and drink companies, economists, dieticians, doctors and scientists debate the reasons and solutions for our obesity and NHS crises, it’s down to us to try to stop over eating and develop healthier lifestyles. How to lose weight was apparently the fourth most popular search in 2017 and the continuing growth of the health and weight loss sector indicates it’s what many people desperately want to achieve.

We can start by rethinking office cake.