07764 189516

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’m beyond chuffed that my office cake research has been shortlisted for an award.  

The Inspiring Wellbeing Awards are associated with the annual Wellbeing Symposium and recognise efforts to improve wellbeing in the workplace, communities and among individuals. 

Whatever the outcome, it’s exciting that the potential of rethinking workplace cake culture is starting to be recognised. 

You can find out more about the 2018 Wellbeing Symposium here.


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