Health Official Wars Against Workplace Cake, Compares It to Secondhand Smoke

Have you ever caught secondhand diabetes? It seems that may be a possibility, based on statements by a UK academic.

Per a piece in The Times, University of Oxford Professor Susan Jebb has a bone to pick with food — or those who support it being sweetly served at work.

In fact, Susan likens complimentary cake to cigarette smoke:

Bringing cake into the office should be seen as harmful to your colleagues in the same way as passive smoking, [Susan] has said.

And she’s no mere educator; Susan is “Britain’s top food watchdog” — chair of the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).

In the past, it was thought people possessed autonomous will; things shoved into their mouths and mercilessly ground came courtesy of conscious choice. These days, we appear to have moved beyond such simplicity; just as every person is acting upon the world, the world is doing a number on them.

So cake brought into the office? Like smoke in our surroundings, we can’t help but breathe it in. Not everyone’s extraordinary:

Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford and a member of The Times Health Commission, said it was not enough to rely on the “extraordinary efforts” of personal willpower needed to avoid overeating in a society that is constantly plying people with food.

“Speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the FSA,” Susan dropped science. Don’t think too highly of yourself:

“We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time [but] we undervalue the impact of the environment.”


“If nobody brought…cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day; but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, okay, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.”

Above all, do no harm:

While saying the two issues were not identical, Jebb argued that passive smoking inflicted harm on others “and exactly the same is true of food.”

She argued: “With smoking, after a very long time, we have got to a place where we understand that individuals have to make some effort but that we can make their efforts more successful by having a supportive environment. But we still don’t feel like that about food.”

Is the assertion that we shouldn’t consume copious amounts of cake fatphobic? Or, rather, is bringing cake to work a microaggression? Or could both be simultaneously true? That debate is welcome to rage.

In the meantime, The Times talks of health:

At its first meeting on Monday night, Lord Rose of Monewden…suggested that workplaces should do more for people’s health. Rose, who undertook a review of the NHS for David Cameron, said that businesses already had to report efforts on equality, diversity and pay, asking: “Why don’t we lobby to say that also in that process as employers, we have a legal obligation to do something about our employees’ health?”

Two thirds of adults are overweight, including a quarter who are obese, a proportion that has doubled in the past three decades. By the time they start school, a fifth of children are already overweight, with most people in Britain now too heavy by the age of 25.

In our increasingly sensitive era, making such points may be problematic:

Professor Fights for the ‘Freedom of Fat Bodies’

Medical School Hosts Seminar on ‘Body Terrorism’ Against ‘Fat LGBTQ+ People’

Humiliation: Movie Review Condemns Whoopi Goldberg’s Non-Existent ‘Fat Suit’

So goes social progress. Even so, Professor Susan is anti-secondhand cake. Furthermore, she “told The Times that (the) advertising of junk food was ‘undermining people’s free will’ and insisted restrictions were ‘not about the nanny state.’” She’s “dismayed that a ban on advertising junk food…has been pushed back to 2025.”

If coworker cake can’t be boldly banned, perhaps we can apply Susan’s sentiment with a move from Bill Clinton’s playbook: If someone offers you carcinogen-adjacent cake, put a little in your mouth but don’t inhale it.


1 Comment

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