Promoting physical activity in the workplace: a stage of change approach


Regular physical activity is associated with improved physiological and psychological wellbeing, by reducing the risk of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression. There is a common perception that physical activity levels in the population are declining, and one of the biggest changes affecting this is occupational based activity. Since adults spend on average over 50% of their waking hours at work, work sites have the potential to be an important setting for health promotion initiatives. Cognitions and behaviours are key causal factors behind many of today s most widespread health problems and illnesses. The stage of change model has been highlighted as having intuitive appeal because it considers the dynamic nature of attitudes and behaviour change. This thesis is concerned with the application of the stage of change model to an occupational health intervention promoting physical activity. Several research studies were undertaken to explore the experiences of employees with workplace health initiatives and investigate the strategies and practices used by occupational health to promote healthy behaviours. These research studies highlighted the barriers and facilitators to successful health interventions and contributed towards the design, development and implementation of an activity promotion intervention. Additional research was also conducted to develop information materials based on the stage of change model. The stage approach was simplified and intervention materials were classified based on whether employees were thinking about making a change or not thinking about making a change to their activity levels. In order to test the materials, a twelve month intervention was implemented in ten work sites across the UK that were allocated to one of three groups. Two groups received information materials and one group received no information during the intervention period (control group). The difference between the two groups who received information was that one group received standard activity promotion information (standard group) and the second group received tailored information based on their stage of change construct (staged group). Participants in the staged intervention group demonstrated significant decreases in body mass index, fat percentage, waist circumference, blood pressure and resting heart rate following the twelve month intervention. In contrast, reductions were identified for the standard intervention group for waist circumference and diastolic blood pressure. Finally, there were no long-term significant improvements identified for the control group. However, group comparisons revealed there were no significant differences between the intervention conditions. The intervention also recorded self-reported psychological outcomes, which demonstrated variations throughout the intervention period for all groups. The potential reasons for these inconsistent outcomes are discussed. A process evaluation following the intervention demonstrated employees valued the health screenings and identified issues relating to knowledge, behaviour change and health implications that were important outputs of the intervention. Based on these findings, the research concludes there is scope to make physical activity interventions in the workplace more effective by applying the stage of change approach. Using the process of simplifying the stages and focusing on whether employees want to change their behaviours or not allows occupational health to deliver information that could be more meaningful and have a significant impact on behaviour change. By understanding employees readiness to change their activity behaviours and targeting information based on their beliefs, attitudes and intentions to change may produce significant improvements in health outcome measures compared to standard information. The results also suggest there is potential for this type of tailored intervention to be extended to other occupational health issues

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Last time updated on 26/03/2020

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