How Google Fights Obesity

(Photo: Nicolas Nova)

(Photo: Nicolas Nova)

Last year, Google realized that its employees were eating too much free candy — M&Ms, specifically.  So the company conducted a little experiment, and carefully tracked the results. Cecilia Kang, writing in the Washington Post, summaries:

What if the company kept the chocolates hidden in opaque containers but prominently displayed dried figs, pistachios and other healthful snacks in glass jars? The results: In the New York office alone, employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms over seven weeks. That’s a decrease of nine vending machine-size packages of M&Ms for each of the office’s 2,000 employees.

The company has conducted similar experiments in an effort to reduce consumption of sugary drinks and encourage employees to consume less calories in the company’s cafeterias.  “With a company as big as Google, you have to start small to make a difference. We apply the same level of rigor, analysis and experimentation on people as we do the tech side,” says Jennifer Kurkoski, a member of Google’s HR team.

Eric M. Jones

Chocolate covered insects in vending machines could be a win-win.


Funny. M&M's (especially the red ones) can be seen as insects covering chocalate ;-)


That sounds like a Dan Ariely experiment. Now only if we could do something like this at the school I teach at.


How google contributes to obesity - Hello Google Kitkat??


And not even a mention of Richard Thaler?


If the goal is to fight obesity, then is providing free snacks (calories) isn't the answer.

1 cup M&Ms: 1023 calories
1 cup (shelled) pistachios: 640 calories
2 McDonalds Cheeseburgers (for comparison): 600 calories

Maybe slower with pistachios than M&Ms but spare calories are spare calories. What you don't burn you store.


And the pistachios are usually highly salted...


I also wonder what the effect would be if they replaced M&Ms, which are typical American "chocolate" - that is, mostly sugar & fat, with just a trace of chocolate flavoring - with good, high-cacao dark chocolate, which has been shown to have many health benefits.


What a dumb study. What's the net effect on calorie consumption? Is it positive? Figs and nuts are very high calorie. This policy could have had the unintended affect of increasing obesity.


Although people have thumbed you down, figs and nuts ARE high calorie.
They're healthy, yes, but only in moderation - like 5 nuts a day.

Enter your name...

There's more to a food's healthfulness than just the calorie count. Unlike candy, nuts have protein, good oils, vitamins, and fiber. Nuts are a low-glycemic food, which means that they have a low effect on blood sugar and keep you from feeling hungry so quickly.

In fact, the many benefits of nuts outweigh their calorie count, and this is one reason that good dieticians oppose using calorie counts as the primary measurement of a food's value. You actually are better off eating 600 calories of nuts than 500 calories of candy.


So, EACH employee ate M&Ms that would fill about 9/7 = 1.28 vending machines EACH week?
If a vending machine has, say, 4 shelves, each employee ate M&Ms that would fill 1.28*4/7 = 0.73 shelf EACH DAY?

Which would also mean that Google kept 2000 * 1.28 = 2560 vending machines stocked per week or 365 vending machines stocked per day. That would be a few roomfuls of M&M vending machines only, not including any others.

That is unbelievable. They may be taking the M&Ms home for others.

Another thing is that this experiment is not correctly controlled. Two conditions were forced.
1. Making the M&M container opaque.
2. Introducing healthy consumption.

How do we know that point 2 made the difference and not point 1?

Enter your name...

A vending machine-size packet is the size of packet that is usually seen in vending machines, not a packet that is the size of a vending machine.

Shane L

Excellent intervention, clever and straight forward.

...Though this article makes me want M&Ms.

PM Aardel

"...nine vending machine-size packages of M&Ms..." would that be more or less than one tractor trailer-sized package?

"We apply the same level of rigor, analysis and experimentation on people..." comforting thought.


Nuts. Just wrote my comment and wound up for another, when I saw that you got there first on both counts! Still made me smile.


What is your share plugin ?


Oh my god, nine 'vending machine-size packages'!? Each package must weigh about a tonne!

I'm no medical expert, but I'd say that reducing the chocolate intake of employees by such a massive amount will result in immediate and measurable health benefits.

Kudos Google, kudos.