Workplace environment can improve eating habits

July 20, 1999

Work-site cancer control programs can significantly improve the nutritional habits of its participants, new research reports. Results from the Working Well Trial, the largest workplace cancer control trial in the United States, showed significant improvement of the nutritional environment at the 55 work-sites with cancer control programs and the eating habits of many of their 9,000 employees.

On three-year follow-up, workers at the sites reported they were getting healthier cafeteria food, greater access to fruit and vegetables, less fat, more fiber, and better labeling of the content of vending machine snacks.

"American cancer control programs have been criticized for focusing almost exclusively on changing individual health behaviors and neglecting opportunities to involve the physical and social environments of the work site," said Lois Biener, PhD, principal investigator of the trial. "But here is a trial that impacts on the work-site itself, to bring about individual changes in health behavior."

"The experimental interventions involved employee advisory boards who worked with researchers to identify ways to improve their co-workers' dietary habits," said Biener. "For example, they encouraged cafeteria managers and vending machine companies to include more low-fat, high-fiber snacks among their offerings and to put nutritional labels in prominent places. Competitions were held in which employees modified traditional family recipes to meet low-fat high-fiber criteria and shared them on the job at taste tests and recipe contests."

As a result, the trial changed the atmosphere at the work site. In addition to increased access to healthy food, employees experienced support from their co-workers and from management for trying to follow diets that placed them at lower risk for cancer.

The results were contrasted with outcomes in a comparison group of 56 work-sites with about 9,000 workers that did not have cancer-control programs. The report appears in the August issue of Health Education & Behavior.

Parallel efforts to change work-site smoking environments did not work out as well.

Both the intervention sites and control sites increased the restrictiveness of the smoking policies across the three-year span of the study. However, the results at the intervention work-sites merely kept pace with the changes in the comparison groups and society at large, where the smoke-free work environment was rapidly becoming the norm.
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The study was supported by a cooperative agreement from the National Cancer Institute.

Health Education & Behavior, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), publishes research on critical health issues for professionals in the implementation and administration of public health information programs. SOPHE is an international, non-profit professional organization that promotes the health of all people through education. For additional information, contact Elaine Auld at 202-408-9804.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health www.cfah.org. For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, pchong@cfah.org, 202- 387-2829.
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Center for Advancing Health

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