Email program may improve workers’ diet, exercise

A workplace program that uses email messages to encourage healthy behaviors may get employees to eat better and get moving, a study published Tuesday suggests.

Researchers found that the email program, which gives employees individually tailored advice on improving their diet and exercise levels, was effective for workers at one large California company.

After 16 weeks, employees who participated in the program were devoting about a half-hour more each week to moderate exercise than their co-workers who were not assigned to the program. They were also logging an extra 12.5 minutes of vigorous exercise, like jogging.

When it came to diet, workers in the email group were eating more fruits and vegetables, and less saturated and trans fats.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggest that electronic advice could be a simple, inexpensive way to promote a healthier lifestyle.

“The takeaway message here for people who want to improve their diet and physical activity, and for employers who want a healthier workforce, is that e-mail intervention programs are a very cost effective way to get healthy,” said Dr. Barbara Sternfeld, a senior research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California.

The fact that the emails gave individually tailored goals was probably key, according to Sternfeld.

“Unless an intervention or advice speaks to where you are in your life,” she told Reuters Health, “you are not going to be able to respond to it.”

The study involved 787 employees at Kaiser Permanente’s administrative offices in Northern California; 351 were randomly assigned to take part in the 16-week email program, while the rest served as a comparison group.

The email program, called ALIVE, allows employees to pick one of three lifestyle areas they want to improve: eating less fat and sugar; eating more fruits and vegetables; or getting more exercise. After completing a baseline questionnaire on their current diet and exercise habits, employees received weekly emails that helped them set and meet certain lifestyle goals.

In the end, Sternfeld’s team found, workers in the email group were generally eating healthier and exercising more than their co-workers in the control group.

The biggest improvements, the study found, were seen among employees who had the least-healthy lifestyles to start.

The program is easy for employers to offer, as long as they have an email system, Sternfeld noted. “From the standpoint of the employer,” she said, “an e-mail intervention program is cost-effective and requires very little financial or time outlay.”

Several other researchers on the study are with NutritionQuest, Inc., the company that developed and licenses the ALIVE program.

SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 19, 2009.

Provided by ArmMed Media