In the 1950s, it was considered natural to smoke at work. Not something most of us could imagine now. Yet in 2015 it remains socially acceptable to cram ourselves full of cakes and cookies that can make us fat and cause diseases.
I think it it is high time that Swedes broke with their famous 'fika' tradition of snacking on cakes during coffee breaks. Well, the coffee can stay, but not the cakes.
Obesity is rising in Sweden but the main reason for this is ambiguous. Is it a lack of physical activity? Too many carbohydrates in our diets? Too few vegetables? Or is it hereditary? The real answer is that people are getting fat because of a combination of different factors. But one thing that all experts agree on is that refined carbohydrates – especially sugar – play a key role in the game.
Picture a coffee break at a medical centre in the Stockholm suburbs. Three medical students are enjoying some hot caffeine alongside a bunch of sweet treats. It is 10am. It is the time of day when Swedes take this kind of 'fika' break. So far, so normal and cosy, right?
But this is a typical example of 'kaknormen' (the Swedish habit of grabbing a cookie – or three): consuming unhealthy sweets that you associate with coffee.
Other countries have obesity problems too. But I have lived and worked in Portugal, Spain and Eastern Europe and you don't see people there always having to have a cake in their hands the moment they start sipping a coffee.
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Just as in the 1950s when social norms dictated that smoking was 'natural', now these sugar-filled obesity-inducing cake breaks are completely acceptable.
Although – unlike smoking – a poor diet mainly only affects the person eating it, the Swedish norm of eating cakes during coffee breaks can make it even harder for those with a sugar addiction to fight it or for those just trying to cut down to change their eating habits.
Of course already you could argue here that people are responsible for their own diets. This is partly true. But it ignores the fact that those who have a sugar addiction may not be able to control their cravings.
Medical student Haroon Bayani is campaigning for fewer cakes in the Swedish workplace. Photo: Private
If we all respected the idea of achieving healthier eating habits, I am sure that we could all have a positive impact. Again we can compare this to the smoking ban and how this has benefited both smokers and non smokers alike in the workplace.
Do you even need sweet snacks with your coffee? Of course the answer is obviously 'no', especially when there are so many long term consequences linked to high sugar consumption: obesity, diabetes, kidney problems.
In the short term, we can also experience 'sugar lows' when we get tired just an hour after eating cakes or sweets. This is not optimal in a workplace.
Therefore I believe that cakes and buns should be taken away and replaced with something else, for example nuts or fruit. Or better still, make do with just coffee.
We should not ban sweets. I am not going that far. I believe that both employers and employees have a responsibility to do their best to make the workplace as pleasant as possible, but at the same time they should also try and keep it free from harmful products.
I urge people to dare to feel uncomfortable and to try not to succumb to the lure of cookies. Dare to break 'kaknormen' and pave the way for a much healthier lifestyle.
A Swedish version of this article was originally published in the Gothenburg Post