Worksite obesity prevention interventions

Worksite obesity prevention interventions are multi-component efforts that combine education, environmental change, physical activity opportunities, and incentives for healthy behavior. Worksite obesity prevention interventions may include written materials, individual or group counseling, improvements in access to healthy foods such as changing cafeteria or vending machine options, and opportunities to be more active at work such as establishing on-site facilities for exercise or standing/walking workstations (Meng 2017, CG-Obesity).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased physical activity

  • Increased healthy food consumption

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved weight status

  • Increased self-confidence

  • Reduced employer health insurance costs

  • Increased productivity

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that worksite obesity prevention programs increase physical activity (Taylor 2016, CG-Obesity), and healthy food consumption among employees (, , Miller 2016a).

Worksite obesity prevention interventions may reduce body mass index (BMI) over the long term, though more evidence is needed to confirm effects (). Employees participating consistently in a worksite Booster Breaks program increase physical activity, reduce sedentary time, and reduce BMI (Taylor 2016). Standing and treadmill desks can also reduce sedentary time and may reduce workplace stress and improve overall mood (). Programs have also been shown to enhance self-confidence for participants, and benefit employers through increased employee productivity, reduced absenteeism, and reduced medical care costs (CG-Obesity, Meng 2017).

Multi-component interventions appear to be more successful than single component programs (CG-Obesity). Workplace interventions that combine diet, physical activity, and environmental components, for example, are more likely to prevent weight gain than single component interventions (). Including co-worker social support may increase the likelihood of affecting physical activity (), and high intensity interventions that include motivational components reduce BMI more than interventions without such components ().

Among low wage workers, participating in worksite health programs is associated with increased physical activity at work and outside of work, as well as increased likelihood of meeting weekly exercise recommendations. Low wage workers who participate in a workplace health program are less likely to be obese than non-participating peers (Strickland 2015).

Worksite obesity prevention programs appear to be cost effective strategies to increase physical activity and improve weight status (CG-Obesity). When worksite health interventions focus on employees at risk for chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, employer cost savings may be enhanced (Meng 2017).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

There are a number of worksite-based obesity prevention programs in the US. Some examples include New Hampshire’s Healthy Eating Active Living program (HEAL), the CDC’s StairWELL initiative (CDC-StairWELL), and North Carolina’s Eat Smart, Move More NC program (ESMM NC).

Employee surveys suggest that workplace health programs are more common among large employers, and that healthy food environments and physical activity opportunities are limited at most worksites ().

Implementation Resources

WI DHS-Worksite Wellness - Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Worksite wellness resource kit.

ACAL-PA at work - Alberta Center for Active Living (ACAL). Physical activity @ work.

NYS DOH-Healthy meetings - New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH). Guidelines for healthy meetings.

Rutgers-Kinsey 2009 - Kinsey J. Workplace wellness: Ways to increase your physical activity on the job. New Brunswick: New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers University; 2009: FS 1107.

CDC-WHP - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Workplace health promotion (WHP): Toolkit on how to design, implement, and evaluate effective workplace health programs.

PRC-Healthier workplace toolkit 2017 - Prevention Research Center (PRC), Washington University in St. Louis. Building a healthier workplace: A toolkit for architects, planners, researchers, and decision makers. 2017.

ChangeLab-Workplace wellness - ChangeLab Solutions. Workplace wellness: Walk this way: A guide on state and local policies that support physical activity and wellness in and around the workplace.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Verweij 2011* - Verweij LM, Coffeng J, van Mechelen W, Proper KI. Meta-analyses of workplace physical activity and dietary behaviour interventions on weight outcomes. Obesity Reviews. 2011;12(6):406-29.

CG-Obesity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Obesity.

Dishman 2009* - Dishman RK, DeJoy DM, Wilson MG, Vandenberg RJ. Move to Improve: A randomized workplace trial to increase physical activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2009;36(2):133–41.

Gudzune 2013* - Gudzune K, Hutfless S, Maruthur N, Wilson R, Segal J. Strategies to prevent weight gain in workplace and college settings: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine. 2013;57(4):268-277.

Tam 2018* - Tam G, Yeung MPS. A systematic review of the long-term effectiveness of work-based lifestyle interventions to tackle overweight and obesity. Preventive Medicine. 2018;107:54-60.

Allan 2017* - Allan J, Querstret D, Banas K, de Bruin M. Environmental interventions for altering eating behaviours of employees in the workplace: A systematic review. Obesity Reviews. 2017;18(2):214-226.

Sarkar 2016* - Sarkar S, Taylor WC, Lai D, Shegog R, Paxton RJ. Social support for physical activity: Comparison of family, friends, and coworkers. Work. 2016;55(4):893-899.

MacEwen 2015* - MacEwen BT, MacDonald DJ, Burr JF. A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace. Preventive Medicine. 2015;70:50-58.

Miller 2016a - Miller CK, Weinhold KR, Nagaraja HN. Impact of a worksite diabetes prevention intervention on diet quality and social cognitive influences of health behavior: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2016;48(3):160-169.e1.

Taylor 2016 - Taylor WC, Paxton RJ, Shegog R, et al. Impact of booster breaks and computer prompts on physical activity and sedentary behavior among desk-based workers: A cluster-randomized controlled trial. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2016;13(E155):160231.

Strickland 2015 - Strickland JR, Pizzorno G, Kinghorn AM, Evanoff BA. Worksite influences on obesogenic behaviors in low-wage workers in St Louis, Missouri, 2013-2014. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2015;12(E66):140406.

Meng 2017 - Meng L, Wolff MB, Mattick KA, et al. Strategies for worksite health interventions to employees with elevated risk of chronic diseases. Safety and Health at Work. 2017;8(2):117-129.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

ESMM NC - Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina (ESMM NC).

HEAL - Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL). Partnerships for healthy communities.

CDC-StairWELL - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Physical activity: StairWELL to better health.

Onufrak 2018* - Onufrak SJ, Watson KB, Kimmons J, et al. Worksite food and physical activity environments and wellness supports reported by employed adults in the United States, 2013. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2018;32(1):96-105.

Date Last Updated

Apr 3, 2018