jimmy and jamie by a vending machine

Shift workers often rely on vending machines during non-canteen hours, or when nearby shops are closed in the middle of the night. Yet, in so many vending machines, affordable, healthier stuff is nowhere to be seen.

Jamie and Jimmy visit Cheshire Constabulary to see what food is available for emergency response staff during night shifts. And, if vending machines are the only option, how do we make them healthier? We’re eating more food on the go than ever before, but are vending machines keeping up with what we want to eat?

A hard night’s work…

Cheshire Constabulary is not your average workplace. Most of the employees do 10-hour shift work. That means long nights spent answering emergency calls and looking after the neighbourhood. It’s non-stop. The team there works 24/7, 365 days a year, trying to keep us safe.

We all know that food stimulates the brain, and our emergency workers need to be alert to protect us. But when the canteen is closed on a night shift, the staff usually get their food from the office vending machine.

Many of the employees see an impact on their health, while they’re working to protect the health of the nation. One reason why a recent study found that night shift work was associated with a 29% higher risk of obesity and overweight. So what’s going on?

Quick and convenient food

Vending is bigger than we think. More than 922 million products were sold via UK vending machines in 2015; and 85% of them were in the workplace. It’s clear that these machines are a big influence on what workers eat.

At the moment, vending machines are nudging us in a particular direction we might not want. They don’t offer us many healthier options, and often push us towards consuming crisps, cans of fizzy drink and chocolate, which are all carefully positioned at eye level. Why is it so hard to find stuff that’s affordable, nutritious and filling?

Evidence shows that having healthier products available and positioning them prominently in the top three rows can drive sales, so this is a real missed opportunity.

What can the workplace do?

Emergency workers, and many other shift workers, do crucial jobs across the UK. Could bosses do more, by providing alternatives to traditional vending machines filled with snacks high in sugar, salt or fat, when their employees want more choice? Can the industry redesign our vending machines to be healthier – whether they’re in schools, hospitals or leisure centres? And what about providing free water fountains so people can stay hydrated without only having sugary drinks to choose from?

We are starting to see some more nutritious products come into the market. In Cheshire Constabulary, Jamie and Jimmy work with the daytime chef to cook up meals that will keep night shift workers going. When levels of obesity are at an all-time high, something has to change. So let’s get creative, and give people proper choice in the workplace!

Read more about Jamie and Jimmy’s campaigns on Friday Night Feast, here.