Eating Healthy at Work Impacts How Employees are Perceived and Treated

Topic(s): Health & Safety, wellness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: You Are What You Eat: How and When Workplace Healthy Eating Cultivates Coworker Perceptions and Behaviors
Authors: T. Watkins, A.S. Patel, G.E. Antoine
Reviewed by: Shayla Bianchi

It is widely known that healthy diets are related to positive individual health outcomes. Healthy diets are generally rich in nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and low in unhealthy components like added sugars and saturated fats. Prior research on eating at work has focused on the impact of diet on employee health and the factors that predict whether employees will eat a healthy diet.

However, there has been a lack of research on how eating in the workplace impacts coworker perceptions and behaviors. This is an especially important topic because employees regularly eat at work and in front of other workers and coworker reactions can impact actual organizational outcomes, such as job performance ratings.


To study this topic, researchers (Watkins et al., 2022) conducted several studies, including an experiment and a survey study. In the experimental study, participants were first shown images of either a healthy or unhealthy lunch belonging to a fictitious coworker. They then assessed the coworker’s level of self-control and explained how they might behave toward the coworker. The authors also conducted a survey study that assessed similar factors based on previous real-life experiences.

The results of these studies showed that healthy eating at work was related to higher coworker perceptions of self-control and, in turn, more helping behaviors and fewer discriminatory behaviors directed toward the healthy-eating employee. Interestingly, the authors found that when the organization already had a “climate” that encouraged or expected healthy eating, the actual healthy eating had no effect on coworker perceptions of self-control.


This research shows that employees may be stereotyped by their coworkers based on their eating habits. However, the authors suggest that managers can promote healthy eating in the workplace to combat some of this bias. Examples of this include providing employees with healthy food options or educating employees on how to eat healthfully. Coworkers and managers should also be made aware of consumption stereotypes and encouraged to make conscious efforts to avoid allowing these biases to alter their views of coworkers.


Watkins, T., Patel, A. S., & Antoine, G. E. (2022). You are what you eat: How and when workplace healthy eating cultivates coworker perceptions and behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 107(9), 1459–1478.

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