Managing Weight in the Workplace

Workplace lifestyle interventions seemed to improve health but no specific method seemed stronger

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many companies are making changes to encourage healthy lifestyle habits at work. But how effective are these efforts? Are they just trendy or do they improve the health of employees?

A new review led by German researchers explored different types of lifestyle interventions in the workplace.

These researchers found that no specific type of healthy lifestyle program seemed drastically more effective, but that the workplace changes seemed to help improve employees' health.

"Find ways to get up from the desk and move around while working."

"Lifestyle-related health issues affect the economic position of organizations and contribute to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and health care costs," explained the study authors, who were led by Sarah Schröer, of the Department of Medical Informatics at the University Hospital of Essen in Essen, Germany.

These researchers wanted to explore the effectiveness of health interventions in terms of promoting a healthy lifestyle, preventing illness and reducing health care expenses.

Such programs might include offering nutritional counseling, incentives for weight loss, exercise classes offered in the office and changing typical vending food snacks and sodas for healthier options.

Schröer and colleagues performed a search in March 2012 for reviews that closely examined different types of workplace health interventions, including those that promoted physical activity, healthy weight and good nutrition. In total, 15 different reviews that analyzed 379 studies were identified.

After analyzing these reviews, Schröer and colleagues reported that three of the 15 reviews found that interventions focusing on nutrition helped improve the diets of employees.

Three reviews found that interventions focusing on physical activity with multiple components helped increase the activity levels and fitness of employees. The authors of the current review noted that other activity promotion interventions (which had a single activity focus) were not quite as effective at increasing physical activity and improving healthy weight for the employees. 

"In terms of weight management, our findings favour multi-component interventions that focus on both physical activity and nutrition over single dietary programmes," they wrote. 

"Workplace health promotion interventions may improve physical activity, dietary behaviour and healthy weight," Schröer and colleagues concluded. "There is no evidence of increased efficacy associated with specific intervention types. Workplace health promotion should focus on either physical activity or weight or nutrition behaviour to maximize effectiveness."

"Since most people spend a good part of their day at work, the workplace is an ideal setting weight-managing wellness programs. The convenience factor is big. People are busy and it’s much easier to take advantage of a program while at work than having to schedule a  separate trip. And anything that makes it easier to adopt healthier eating or living is a win win for employees and employers," said Mary Finckenor, MA, RD, dietician and diabetes educator at Cardiac Rehabilitation at Morristown Medical Center.

More research is needed to understand the concepts and effectiveness behind lifestyle interventions in the workplace more completely.

The study was published online November 26 in the journal Occupational Medicine

Review Date: 
December 6, 2013
Last Updated:
September 12, 2014