U.K. Professor Likens Offering Cake at the Workplace to Cigarette Smoking in Public

Have you ever been a victim of secondhand diabetes? It appears that it could be possible, based on claims made by a U.K. academic.

According to a report in The Times, a University of Oxford professor, Susan Jebb, has a bone to pick with food—or with those who support it being served in a sweet way at work.

In reality, Susan compares complimentary cake to cigarettes:

“Bringing cake into the office should be seen as harmful to your colleagues in the same way as passive smoking,” she has said.

Susan isn't just an educator; she is “Britain's top food watchdog”—chair of the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency (FSA).

In the past, there was a belief that individuals had autonomous willpower; things that were pushed mercilessly into their mouths or ground up were the results of conscious decisions. Nowadays, it appears to have gone beyond simple notions; just as each person has a direct impact on the world, the universe is causing a lot of damage to them.

A cake brought into the office? Like smoke that lingers in the air, we can't help but take a deep breath—or a bite. It's not all that uncommon:

“Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford and a member of The Times Health Commission, said it was not enough to rely on the ‘extraordinary efforts’ of personal willpower needed to avoid overeating in a society that is constantly plying people with food.”

“Speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the FSA,” Susan dropped the science, not wanting to appear too proud of herself:

“We all like to think we're rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time [but] we undervalue the impact of the environment.”


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

Above all, do no harm:

“While saying the two issues were not identical, Jebb argued that passive smoking inflicted harm on others ‘and exactly the same is true of food.’

“She argued: ‘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. But we still don’t feel like that about food.’”

Is the claim that we shouldn't eat large quantities of cake fat-phobic? Or, more specifically, do you consider bringing cake to work an act of microaggression? Or are both true? This debate is a good one to go on.

In the spirit of the moment, The Times talks of health:

“At its first meeting on Monday night, Lord Rose of Monewden…suggested that workplaces should do more for people’s health. Rose, who undertook a review of the NHS for David Cameron, said that businesses already had to report efforts on equality, diversity and pay, asking: ‘Why don’t we lobby to say that also in that process as employers, we have a legal obligation to do something about our employees’ health?’

“Two-thirds of adults are overweight, including a quarter who are obese, a proportion that has doubled in the past three decades. By the time they start school, a fifth of children are already overweight, with most people in Britain now too heavy by the age of 25.”

In this increasingly delicate era, making these points could be problematic: “Professor Fights for the ‘Freedom of Fat Bodies’,” “Medical School Hosts Seminar on ‘Body Terrorism’ Against ‘Fat LGBTQ+ People’,” “Humiliation: Movie Review Condemns Whoopi Goldberg’s Non-Existent ‘Fat Suit’.”

The same goes for social progress. But Professor Susan is against secondhand cakes. In addition, she “told The Times that (the) advertising of junk food was ‘undermining people’s free will’ and insisted restrictions were ‘not about the nanny state.'” She’s “dismayed that a ban on advertising junk food…has been pushed back to 2025.”

If a coworker's cake can’t be banned in a bold way, perhaps we could apply Susan's advice with an action item from Bill Clinton's playbook. If you are offered a carcinogen-laden piece of cake, you can put some in your mouth, but just don’t inhale it.

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