The success of worksite nutrition and physical activity interventions with environmental modifications A systematic review

Joanna Russell, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background: As obesity increases among U.S. workers, employers are implementing programs to increase physical activity and improve diets. Although programs to address individual determinants of obesity have been evaluated, less is known about the effects of workplace programs that change environmental factors, because most reviews have not isolated environmental programs; the one that did was published in 2005. Objective: To update the 2005 review to determine the effectiveness of workplace environmental interventions. Methods: The Medline database was searched for published English language reports (2003-2011) of randomized controlled (RCTs) or quasi-experimental trials (NRCTs) that evaluated strategies to modify physical activity opportunities or food services, targeting employees at least 18 years, not including retirees and that provided data for at least one physical activity, dietary, or health risk indicator. Three coders independently extracted study characteristics and scored the quality of study methods. Program effectiveness was determined using the 2005 review's best evidence approach. Results: Seven studies represented in nine reports met eligibility criteria; three focused on diet and the remainder targeted diet and physical activity interventions. All but one study received a high quality score for internal validity. The evidence for the effectiveness of workplace environmental interventions was at best, inconclusive for diet and physical activity and limited for health risk indicators. The outcome constructs were inconsistent across the studies. Conclusions: Limitations in the methods of the 2005 review made it challenging to draw conclusions about findings for this review that include: variation in outcome measures, reliance on distal measures without proximal behavior change measures, no distinction between changes at the workplace versus outside the workplace, and inappropriate analyses of cluster designs that biased findings toward statistical significance. The best evidence approach relied on vote-counting, using statistical significance alone rather than effect size and confidence intervals. Future research should address these limitations and use more rigorous methods; systematic reviews should use methods of meta-analysis to summarize study findings. These recommendations will help employers to better understand how environmental modifications in the workplace can support their efforts to combat the effects of obesity among employees.

Subject Area

Occupational health|Public health

Recommended Citation

Russell, Joanna, "The success of worksite nutrition and physical activity interventions with environmental modifications A systematic review" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1515654.