UGA researchers receive $1.3 million CDC grant to study workplace physical activity intervention

October 25, 2004

Workers may be taking more exercise breaks than snack breaks in the future if a team of University of Georgia exercise and health researchers finds that workplace fitness programs are just what the doctor ordered.

Despite evidence that physical inactivity is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers, only a third of adults in the United States regularly participate in recommended levels of either moderate or vigorous physical activity.

In an effort to increase the physical activity level of the general population, federal health officials have identified workplaces as important settings for fitness programs. However the effectiveness of such programs has yet to be determined by sound research.

The UGA team, led by Rod Dishman, a professor of exercise science in UGA's College of Education, has received a $1.3 million grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to implement and evaluate the effectiveness of a 12-week physical activity program in a three-year study involving 1,600 male and female employees in 16 worksites of The Home Depot, Inc., across the United States and Canada.

Co-principal investigators in the project, titled "WAGES: Workplace Activity by Employee Goal Setting," include UGA colleagues David DeJoy, professor, and Mark Wilson, associate professor, both in health promotion and behavior, and Bob Vandenberg, a professor of management. DeJoy and Wilson founded The Workplace Health Group, a multidisciplinary research group that studies workplace health and organizational effectiveness.

A sedentary lifestyle contributes directly to an estimated 200,000 deaths annually from coronary heart disease (CHD), type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. The combined effect of physical inactivity and poor diet accounts for more than 300,000 deaths each year and is a key contributor to the 50 percent increase in obesity among U.S. adults during the past decade, say health experts.

"Observational studies have demonstrated that the risk of all-cause and CHD mortality is about 50 percent lower in physically active men and women than in their sedentary peers," said Dishman. "Regular exercise is also associated with elevated HDL-cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) and enhanced insulin sensitivity, which together lower the odds of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Overweight adults who are physically active have lower morbidity and mortality than normal weight adults who are sedentary.

"Moreover moderate-to-vigorous physical activity increases cardiorespiratory fitness, which is independently associated with reduced risk of CHD morbidity and mortality."

Workplaces offer unique opportunities to encourage adults and their families to increase their physical activity. Most adults spend half of their waking hours at the workplace, providing opportunities for individualized and mass reach interventions to be implemented, UGA researchers say.

"Evidence suggests that workplace fitness programs can be cost-effective, possibly reducing employer costs for insurance premiums, disability benefits and medical expenses," said Dishman. "Other possible benefits include improved workplace morale in areas such as job satisfaction, perceived organizational commitment, turnover intentions and absenteeism, and feelings of increased energy and less fatigue."

The UGA researchers say the focus of the study will be to determine the effects of a multilevel intervention aimed at personal goal-setting by employees and ecologically based organizational action designed to promote physical activity and a healthy workplace.

"It's all about getting employees to set personal and group goals in their personal leisure activity and about helping employee-management teams create a better environment to promote activity," said Dishman.
-end-


University of Georgia

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