Stress-free working environment to end sugar binges

New research reveals that more than a quarter (28%) of British adults turn to sugar when put under stress. With half of workers reporting feeling stressed in their jobs, the Oral Health Foundation is calling on employers to do more to help combat stress and offer more support to their employees to maintain good oral health.

According to the charity’s research, those in work can be significantly (up to 28%) more likely to binge on sugar than those out of work.

Evidence suggests that office workers are the most likely to eat sugary foods and drinks (32%) as a result of stress. Senior professionals like doctors, lawyers and accountants are also at higher risk (31%).

For many years, ‘comfort eating’ has been seen as an excuse to consume unhealthy sugary and fatty foods. In recent decades, scientific studies have found that comfort eating is actually hormone-related and fuelled by our body’s biological response to stressful situations. When put under stress, our body releases a hormone called Cortisol which increases our appetite.

Once ingested, fat and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress-related responses and emotions. These foods really are ‘comfort’ foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, believes that businesses need to be more proactive when it comes to combating the effects stress can have on their employees.

Dr Carter says: “Ultimately it is to the employer’s benefit to tackle unhealthy comfort eating as a result of stress, especially as it is happening on work premises so frequently. Desk snacking, communal treat tables and vending machines, often filled with sugary foods and drinks, are the biggest contributors to the problem. This is causing oral diseases such as tooth decay, as well as wider conditions like diabetes and obesity.

“It is important to encourage healthy eating and to develop a more tooth-friendly culture in the workplace. Snacks such as cheese and nuts are better than sugary treats. Milk and water is a great substitute for juices and fizzy drinks while reducing the amount of sugar added to tea and coffee can make a big difference.

“By helping employees look after their oral health, the workforce will not only be healthier, they will be happier too. Importantly, it will reduce absenteeism for oral health issues, which has become a growing issue in recent years.”

The charity has found that around one in seven (15%) people have taken sick leave in the last two years to due to an oral health problem. The OHF estimates that this equates to UK businesses losing 3.6 million hours of labour every year and £52 million for the economy.

“Stress in the workplace can be difficult to avoid but with good provisions in place and proactive measures from employers, the effects of stress can be limited,” adds Dr Carter.

“By encouraging employees to look after their oral health, and to have tooth-friendly workplace snacks, not only will employers have a happier workforce but also a healthier, more productive one too. It is also important to allow employees to attend regular dental check-ups. All these measures will reduce unforeseen absenteeism in the future.”