Let them eat cake: UK's Sunak responds to health warning on office treats

Food watchdog Prof Susan Jebb likens cakes for birthdays and work celebrations to passive smoking

Cakes are offered as nurses from the Royal College of Nursing strike outside a hospital in Middlesbrough, England, on Wednesday. Getty.
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The head of Britain's food watchdog has claimed bringing cake into the office was as harmful for workers as passive smoking, prompting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to dismiss the warning.

Prof Susan Jebb, chairwoman of the Food Standards Agency, said that providing treats for colleagues on birthdays and other workplace events could put their health at risk.

Her comments have been widely derided in Britain, where office "cake culture" has become well established.

“We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time, and we undervalue the impact of the environment," Prof Jebb told The Times

“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, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.

“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.

“We still don’t feel like that about food.”

Prof Jebb said that while it was a choice to eat sweet treats, people could help each other by providing a “supportive environment”.

But British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak opposed the suggestion that people stop taking cakes into the office for the sake of their colleagues' health.

Downing Street even distributed small cupcakes to reporters in Parliament.

Mr Sunak believes in “personal choice” and that people should be allowed to share treats with their colleagues, his office said.

"The Prime Minister believes that personal choice should be baked into our approach," his official spokesman said.

“We want to encourage healthy lifestyles and are taking action to tackle obesity, which has cost the NHS [National Health Service] £6 billion annually.

“However, the way to deal with this issue is not to stop people from occasionally bringing in treats for their co-workers.”

Mr Sunak’s spokesman said the Prime Minister was “very partial to a piece of cake” and most enjoyed carrot and red velvet.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 8:41 PM