Cheerful office workers laugh share takeaway pizza together

(© fizkes -

COLOGNE, Germany — People buying burgers for lunch instead of more nutritious choices may have more to do with peer pressure than individual choices. It turns out that workers are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables and exercise when their colleagues encourage them to do so, according to researchers in Germany. A team from the University of Cologne and Utrecht University suggests that co-workers have the potential to contribute to creating a culture of health within the workplace, instead of opting for pizza every Friday.

Studies continue to show that creating a healthy lifestyle has a lot to do with the influence of family, friends, and even neighbors. However, few studies have examined the role of co-workers. Many employees spend over eight hours at work surrounded by their colleagues, which can ultimately affect one’s lifestyle choices.

To study the extent of this, scientists used data sourced from the European Sustainable Workforce Survey, which involved 4,345 employees in 402 teams across 113 organizations, to assess the impact of encouragement of healthy habits and actual lifestyle changes in the workplace.

“Our study showed that employees are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables as well as engage in physical activity when their colleagues encourage a healthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Lea Ellwardt, from the University of Cologne’s Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology (ISS), in a media release.

Though the team expected to find the same with physical activity without encouragement, they actually noted a negative association.

“One explanation for our negative result may be that physical activity typically takes place outside working hours, where it is hardly visible to colleagues,” Ellwardt continues.

co-workers lunch food
(Credit: Kampus Production from Pexels)

The authors believe that their analysis offers solid supportive evidence for those in managerial and public health policy roles to consider integrating healthy lifestyle encouragement into their work.

“Our study implies that when designing health interventions, it is important to incorporate the work environment alongside other social actors such as partners, family members, and friends. Colleagues are relevant sources of social support when it comes to healthy behaviors and can act as role models,” Ellwardt concludes.

In the future, the team agrees that conducting research with longitudinal data to examine this relationship over time would provide even more detailed findings. Since individuals process environmental cues internally to build motivation, this study design could produce work that shows how long it takes for employees to adapt to their workplace health cues from their environment to shape their intrinsic motivation. This research could show how long it takes a new employee to adapt to their typical workplace health belief model.

The findings are published in the journal BMC Public Health.

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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