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Workplace canteens help Finns pile on the pounds

White-collar workers who sit at their desks all day are likely to be eating too much at lunchtime. Finland’s Institute for Health and Welfare says that many workers take too much food in the lunch line, leading to weight problems and health difficulties.

Ruokaa lautasella.
Image: Petri Aaltonen / Yle

The largest workplace canteen operators in Finland, Fazer Amica and Sodexo, looked at portions taken in six different workplaces. They found surprisingly few differences between portion sizes at eateries frequented by manual workers and those used by desk-bound administrators.

The average consumed by office workers was nearly a kilogram of food—and as that is an average, many people ate even more than that.

"That’s unforgiveable," says THL researcher Ritva Prättälä. "It should never weigh that much."

THL recommendations include a main meal weighing 250-300 grammes, with the goal that nutrition is distributed evenly throughout the day. Eating a lot at lunch can have serious adverse effects for those looking to keep their weight under control.

"Even though people eat so much at lunchtime, by the evening the stomach has emptied," explains Prättälä. "People then eat more at home, and weight starts to creep up."

Minority of Finns are 'normal' weight

The additional food is showing on Finnish waistlines: THL figures show that only around 30 percent of men and around 40 percent of women have “normal” weights.

Servers at cafeterias began to disappear in the 1980s. Since then customers have been able to fill their plates themselves.

"It wasn’t done in pursuit of savings, it was because customers requested they go," says Leila Fogelholm, nutrition expert at Fazer Foods.

The buffet serving style tends to remind Finns of ferries to Sweden, where excess consumption of all kinds is often the norm. As portions grew, so did Finns’ waistlines. Health professionals reckon a return to the serving counter would help people keep better control of their diets.

"The amount of excess food you have to eat each day to put on weight is very small," says Prättälä. "The return of lunch ladies would be good for overweight Finns, at least."

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