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Obesity Prevention and Control: Worksite Programs

Worksite nutrition and physical activity programs are designed to improve health-related behaviors and health outcomes. These programs can include one or more approaches to support behavioral change including informational and educational, behavioral and social, and policy and environmental strategies.

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends worksite programs intended to improve diet and/or physical activity behaviors based on strong evidence of their effectiveness for reducing weight among employees.

About the Intervention

  • Informational and educational strategies aim to increase knowledge about a healthy diet and physical activity. Examples include:
    • Lectures
    • Written materials (provided in print or online)
    • Educational software
  • Behavioral and social strategies target the thoughts (e.g. awareness, self-efficacy) and social factors that effect behavior changes. Examples include:
    • Individual or group behavioral counseling
    • Skill-building activities such as cue control
    • Rewards or reinforcement
    • Inclusion of co-workers or family members to build support systems
  • Policy and environmental approaches aim to make healthy choices easier and target the entire workforce by changing physical or organizational structures. Examples of this include:
    • Improving access to healthy foods (e.g. changing cafeteria options, vending machine content)
    • Providing more opportunities to be physically active (e.g. providing on-site facilities for exercise)
  • Policy strategies may also change rules and procedures for employees such as health insurance benefits or costs or money for health club membership.
  • Worksite weight control strategies may occur separately or as part of a comprehensive worksite wellness program that addresses several health issues (e.g., smoking cessation, stress management, cholesterol reduction).

Results from the Systematic Review

Forty-seven studies qualified for the review and included three outcome measures: body mass index (BMI), weight, and percent body fat.

  • The most common intervention strategies included both informational and behavioral skills components (32 studies). Few studies (4 studies) looked at policy and environmental changes in the worksite.
  • Effects on the three outcomes consistently favored:
    • The intervention group compared to the controls (31 studies)
    • Those receiving more intensive versus less intensive strategies (9 studies).
    • In individually randomized controlled trials, results showed that compared with control groups after 12 months, participating employees lost an average of 2.8 pounds (9 studies) and reduced their average BMI by 0.5 (6 studies).
  • No one focus, diet or physical activity, or combination of both appeared to be better than others in terms of its effect on weight loss.
  • Most of the studies involved a white collar workforce that included some employees with overweight or other chronic disease risk conditions.
  • The range of cost-effectiveness estimates from three studies (two involving weight-loss competitions and one involving a physical fitness program) varied from $1.44 to $4.16 per pound of loss in body weight.

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice and policy related to worksite programs to prevent and control obesity.

image of planet Find a Research-tested Intervention Program (RTIP) External Web Site Icon about worksite programs to address obesity (What is an RTIP?).

Supporting Materials


Anderson LM, Quinn TA, Glanz K, Ramirez G, Kahwati LC, Johnson DB, Ramsey Buchanan L, Archer WR, Chattopadhyay S, Kalra GP, Katz DL, Task Force on Community Preventive Services. The effectiveness of worksite nutrition and physical activity interventions for controlling employee overweight and obesity: a systematic review. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 1.22 MB] Am J Prev Med 2009;37(4):340-357.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. A recommendation to improve employee weight status through worksite health promotion programs targeting nutrition, physical activity, or both. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 81 kB] Am J Prev Med 2009;37(4):358-359.

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*PDF includes all of the information available and will not be updated.


The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Obesity prevention and control: worksite programs. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: February 2007