Worksite obesity prevention interventions

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

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 workstations1, 2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

  • Increased healthy food consumption

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved weight status

  • Increased self-confidence

  • Reduced employer health insurance costs

  • Increased productivity

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that worksite obesity prevention programs increase physical activity3, 425, and healthy food consumption among employees4, 6, 7.

Worksite obesity prevention interventions may reduce body mass index (BMI) over the long term, though more evidence is needed to confirm effects8. Employees participating consistently in a worksite Booster Breaks program increase physical activity, reduce sedentary time, and reduce BMI3. Standing and treadmill desks can also reduce sedentary time and may reduce workplace stress and improve overall mood9. Programs have also been shown to enhance self-confidence for participants, and benefit employers through increased employee productivity, reduced absenteeism, and reduced medical care costs1, 2.

Multi-component interventions appear to be more successful than single component programs2. Workplace interventions that combine diet, physical activity, and environmental components, for example, are more likely to prevent weight gain than single component interventions10. Including co-worker social support may increase the likelihood of affecting physical activity11, and high intensity interventions that include motivational components reduce BMI more than interventions without such components8.

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 peers12.

Worksite obesity prevention programs appear to be cost effective strategies to increase physical activity and improve weight status2. When worksite health interventions focus on employees at risk for chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, employer cost savings may be enhanced1.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

There are a number of worksite-based obesity prevention programs in the U.S. Some examples include New Hampshire’s Healthy Eating Active Living program13, the CDC’s StairWELL initiative14, and North Carolina’s Eat Smart, Move More NC program15.

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 worksites16.

Implementation Resources

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.


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1 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.

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

3 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.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 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.

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

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

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

16 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.