Autumn 2009: Of Note
Signs of health
Small changes can lead to healthier employees
By Mary J. Loftus
Small actions such as putting up posters reminding workers to take the stairs or stocking vending machines with healthy choices appear to have an impact on employees’ health.
Research Professor Ron Goetzel, of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Rollins School of Public Health, found that such simple changes to the workplace environment may help to reduce obesity and other health risks among workers.
Positive health effects are apparent within a year after these modifications are put in place, says Goetzel, lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Several sites at a large chemical company participated in a series of environmental modifications designed to promote healthier lifestyles: cafeterias and vending machines offered healthy food selections, walking trails were marked, and signs encouraging increased physical activity were posted. Other parts of the company did not receive these modifications. A follow-up study a year later with more than three thousand employees found modest health improvements in workers at sites with the modifications. “Although small, the changes are significant, and may increase with continued follow-up,” Goetzel says. Changes included reductions in weight and body mass index for employees at treatment sites and reductions in high blood pressure.
Researchers also found that sites with more intensive programs that engaged company leaders in health promotion activities had even greater effects.