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It's Not A Piece Of Cake To Forgo Treats At Work

Sadly, birthday calories do count.

Whoever said calories don't count when food is free or it's someone's birthday has been seriously sugarcoating the truth. Dammit.

As it turns out, they're just as bad as regular calories.

I know.

Next thing you know they're going to tell us that PMS chocolate also makes you fat.

Taking advantage of the 'get healthy' momentum which comes as the calendar clicks over from December to January, the Royal College of Surgeons dental faculty last week urged employers to tackle the so called "cake culture" in workplaces, which is "contributing to the obesity epidemic and poor dental health".

Faculty dean, Professor Nigel Hunt, is arguing for a "culture change in offices and other workplaces that encourages healthy eating and helps workers avoid caving in to sweet temptations such as cakes, sweets and biscuits."

Sounds pretty sweet to me. I need all the help I can get to avoid the sugar-laden delicacies that show up at our office door each day.

But it didn't take long for the critics to get on their chocolate boxes. In a bitingly sarcastic column for The Guardian, Stuart Heritage wrote:

"If cake culture is ruining your health, then don't be afraid to up sticks and change career. Maybe the Anti-Flour League has a position going. Or perhaps the charity Butter is Bullshit wants a new social-media coordinator. Have you enquired at the dental surgery faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons? You may find that everyone there is gaunt and unhappy, but it sounds like your kind of deal."

Sorry to sound a bit "gaunt and unhappy", but is this rhetoric really that helpful?

As Kasey Edwards wrote yesterday in The Sydney Morning Herald, blaming workplace treats for obesity is an oversimplification of this weighty problem. Between smartphones, fast food and a culture of burnout, we've created a recipe for disaster that's going to take more than carrot sticks and cottage cheese to fix.

She said:

"How about we focus on the health risks of smartphones and a work culture that carries expectations that we respond to email 24/7, even when we're officially on annual leave? Or poor health induced by workplace stress and eroding employment conditions?

"Perhaps we could consider what treating people like battery hens -- cramming them into windowless cubicles for eight to 10 -- sometimes more -- hours a day does to people's health."

How about we focus on them all? There's no need to put all our eggs in one basket.

Yes, this conversation needs to go broader and deeper than simply asking employees to consider the impact birthday cupcakes might be having on the waistlines of their workers.

But we know we've got a global obesity crisis which is spreading across the Western world faster than melting butter. Our health is a disaster -- diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease and mental illness are causing more morbidity and mortality than war, terrorism or famine.

We can't simply blame "cake culture", but surely it can't hurt to give some thought to how often we tempt our colleagues and ourselves. And it might go some way to creating a society where you can decline an offer of birthday cake without being labelled a sad health freak who wants to extinguish fun with a wet leaf of lettuce.

Most people I know want to be healthy -- at least in theory. Why else is the most popular new year's resolution, year after year after year, to lose weight or eat more healthily or exercise more?

Most of us don't -- it's hard not to indulge when we're bringing home the bacon. But we don't need to make it any harder for ourselves and each other by providing another excuse to have our cake and eat it too.


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