Workplace Design Changes Help Employees Keep Weight Off, Study Says

Researchers found that simple, low-cost interventions — for example, encouraging workers to take the stairs and making healthy options available in vending machines — helped to avoid employee weight gain.

Some simple changes to promote healthy habits at work can help to prevent employees from gaining weight, reports a study in the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

However, these types of environmental interventions aren't likely to lead to weight loss — even when combined with an individual weight-management program — according to the study by researchers at University of Georgia and Emory University.

The researchers report on the impact of environmental interventions at several Dow Chemical Company worksites. They found that simple, low-cost interventions — for example, encouraging workers to take the stairs and making healthy options available in vending machines — helped to avoid employee weight gain.

They study also evaluated the effects of a voluntary, low-intensity individual weight-management program. The program was popular, with about 60 percent of eligible workers participating. "However, employees who participated in the individually focused intervention were no more successful at losing weight than those who were only exposed to the environmental interventions," the researchers wrote. In all groups, about 13.5 percent of workers reduced their weight by five percent or more.

There is growing interest in using environmental design changes to support healthy eating and physical activity in the workplace. The new results add to the evidence that such design changes can help to prevent employees from gaining weight.

However, they show no evidence that environmental interventions promote weight loss — even when combined with an individual weight-management program. "Low-cost environmental interventions provide an opportunity for worksites to encourage weight maintenance and control in the general employee population," the researchers concluded. They call for further studies to see if more comprehensive worksite programs can succeed in promoting weight loss.

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