1 in 6 US employees addicted to ultra-processed foods, Lifesum finds

Los Angeles, Ca. May 2024—New research from Lifesum, the leading global healthy eating platform, reveals that 1 in 6 US employees consider themselves addicted to ultra-processed food (UPF). 

This follows the world’s largest review published in the BMJ, which showed that UPFs are linked to higher risks of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, adverse mental health and early death. 

“Our research highlights the prevalence and impact of ultra-processed food addiction on employee health. Introducing informative warning labels on specific ultra-processed foods can empower individuals to make more conscious dietary decisions. Additionally, employers can foster healthier workplace environments by implementing strategies like nutrition education, promoting access to healthier foods, and offering support for dietary improvements," said Signe Svanfeldt, lead nutritionist at Lifesum.

UPFs, including snacks, packaged baked goods, sugary cereals, and ready meals, often lack essential nutrients and are typically high in added sugar, fat, and salt.

Ultra-Processed Food Addiction at Work 

Based on a survey of 5,000, the findings reveal that one in six US employees consider themselves addicted to UPFs. This underscores the prevalence and severity of UPF addiction within the workplace, highlighting the need for interventions to address unhealthy eating habits. 

Yes 16.9%

No 83.1%

How Often Ultra-Processed Foods are Consumed 

The research highlights the widespread consumption of UPFs at work with the vast majority of US employees (85.4%) consuming UPFs at least once a week, with one-fifth (20.5%) consuming UPFs daily. 

Daily 20.5%

Once a week 17.8%

Twice a week 24.5%

3-4 times a week 22.6%

Never 14.6%

Reasons for Consuming Ultra-Processed Foods 

The survey highlights various drivers of UPF consumption at work. Convenience is key, emphasizing the need for employers to provide accessible healthy meal options and encourage employees to take time to eat a proper lunch rather than snacking between meetings. Stress plays a significant role, underscoring the link between emotional well-being and dietary choices. Affordability also influences food decisions, reflecting socioeconomic factors.

Convenience 32.5%

Stress 25.8%

Time constraints 15.2%

Social snaking 11.5%

Affordability 9.5%

Personal preference 5.5%

Ultra Processed Foods and Mood Regulation

The overwhelming majority of US employees (74.5%) claim that UPFs had a negative impact on mood regulation at work, which emphasizes the need to consider the psychological effects of food choices, particularly in the context of mental health. 

Yes 74.5%

No 25.5% 


Ultra Processed Foods and Energy Levels

The substantial majority of US employees (78.6%) acknowledged that UPFs had a negative impact on energy levels at work, which suggests a widespread recognition of how diet influences vitality. This finding underscores the importance of considering the nutritional quality of food choices for sustaining energy and productivity throughout the working day.

Yes 78.6%

No 21.4% 

Ultra Processed Foods and Cognitive Function

Almost two-thirds (62.3%) of US employees acknowledged that UPFs had a negative impact on their cognitive function at work, which suggests a growing awareness of the link between diet and brain health.

Yes 62.3%

No 37.7%

Accessibility of Ultra Processed Foods in the Workplace 

Over two-thirds of US employees (70.6%) reported that employers made UPFs readily available in the workplace, which indicates a widespread prevalence. 

Yes 70.6%

No 29.4% 

“Our research underscores the severity of ultra-processed food addiction in the workplace and its impact on employee health, both physically and mentally. These foods can lead to a variety of health issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Employers should prioritize promoting healthier eating habits to counter these effects and enhance employee well-being,” said Signe.

Strategies to help employees avoid UPFs at work 

Signe has offered five effective strategies to help employees avoid UPFs at work:

  1. Provide Healthy Snacks: Offer fresh fruits, plain nuts, and unsweetened yogurt in the office kitchen or vending machines. Easy access to these options encourages healthier snacking choices.
  2. Host Nutrition Workshops: Organize educational sessions about nutrition to raise awareness of the benefits of whole foods and the risks of ultra-processed ones.
  3. Encourage Meal Prep: Motivate employees to prepare meals at home by providing resources and incentives like reusable containers or recipe books.
  4. Choose Fresh Catering: Opt for caterers that prioritize fresh, minimally processed ingredients for office meals and events.
  5. Cultivate Supportive Culture: Foster a workplace environment that promotes healthy eating habits through sharing success stories and creating spaces for employees to enjoy homemade meals together. Consider starting a meal-sharing program to encourage healthier eating habits.

Five easy and practical ways to reduce your intake of UPFs 

Signe has offered five easy and practical ways to reduce your intake of UPFs:

  1. Cook with Fresh Ingredients: Choose fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over pre-packaged meals. Cooking from scratch lets you control additives and boost your nutrient intake.
  2. Check Labels: Read nutrition labels, avoiding products with long lists of unrecognizable ingredients. Opt for simpler, more natural options.
  3. Plan Meals: Planning ahead reduces reliance on convenience foods. Prepare healthy options in advance to resist processed temptations.
  4. Swap Snacks: Replace processed snacks with whole foods like nuts, yogurt, or fresh fruit. Consider making homemade energy bars for a nutritious boost on the go.
  5. Use Natural Sweeteners: Cut back on processed sugars by choosing natural options like raw honey or dates to sweeten your meals. They're less processed and slightly lower in sugar than alternatives like white sugar or corn syrup.

Media Enquiries

Signe Svanfeldt, lead nutritionist at Lifesum, is available for an interview.

Media contact: Harry Cymbler, Hot Cherry PR, harry@hotcherry.co.uk


About Lifesum

Lifesum is the leading global healthy eating platform that empowers people to make smarter food choices and build sustainable eating habits, whether you want to reach a healthy weight or improve your long-term health. With a holistic approach to wellness, Lifesum helps you to understand how nutrition impacts core pillars of health, including sleep, exercise and mental well-being. Lifesum features personalized nutrition insights and guidance, recipes, meal plans, diets, and food and exercise trackers. Learn more at Lifesum.com 


About Lifesum for Work

Lifesum for Work is the leading corporate well-being service trusted by the world’s leading organizations, including Amazon, Google, GE, and PayPal. Lifesum for Work delivers a range of wellness outcomes, including increased employee engagement, lower absenteeism and churn and higher productivity. The service empowers employees to make smarter food choices with personalized recipes, diets and meal plans, food and exercise trackers, plus inspiration and motivation at every step of the way. Learn more at Lifesum.com/work