Strategies to improve the implementation of workplace-based policies or practices targeting tobacco, alcohol, diet, physical activity and obesity

Luke Wolfenden, Sharni Goldman, Fiona G. Stacey, Alice Grady, Melanie Kingsland, Christopher M. Williams, John Wiggers, Andrew Milat, Chris Rissel, Adrian Bauman, Margaret M. Farrell, France Légaré, Ali Ben Charif, Hervé Tchala Vignon Zomahoun, Rebecca K. Hodder, Jannah Jones, Debbie Booth, Benjamin Parmenter, Tim Regan, Sze Lin Yoong

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

66 Citations (Web of Science)


Background: Given the substantial period of time adults spend in their workplaces each day, these provide an opportune setting for interventions addressing modifiable behavioural risk factors for chronic disease. Previous reviews of trials of workplace-based interventions suggest they can be effective in modifying a range of risk factors including diet, physical activity, obesity, risky alcohol use and tobacco use. However, such interventions are often poorly implemented in workplaces, limiting their impact on employee health. Identifying strategies that are effective in improving the implementation of workplace-based interventions has the potential to improve their effects on health outcomes. Objectives: To assess the effects of strategies for improving the implementation of workplace-based policies or practices targeting diet, physical activity, obesity, tobacco use and alcohol use. Secondary objectives were to assess the impact of such strategies on employee health behaviours, including dietary intake, physical activity, weight status, and alcohol and tobacco use; evaluate their cost-effectiveness; and identify any unintended adverse effects of implementation strategies on workplaces or workplace staff. Search methods: We searched the following electronic databases on 31 August 2017: CENTRAL; MEDLINE; MEDLINE In Process; the Campbell Library; PsycINFO; Education Resource Information Center (ERIC); Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL); and Scopus. We also handsearched all publications between August 2012 and September 2017 in two speciality journals: Implementation Science and Journal of Translational Behavioral Medicine. We conducted searches up to September 2017 in Dissertations and Theses, the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, and the US National Institutes of Health Registry. We screened the reference lists of included trials and contacted authors to identify other potentially relevant trials. We also consulted experts in the field to identify other relevant research. Selection criteria: Implementation strategies were defined as strategies specifically employed to improve the implementation of health interventions into routine practice within specific settings. We included any trial with a parallel control group (randomised or non-randomised) and conducted at any scale that compared strategies to support implementation of workplace policies or practices targeting diet, physical activity, obesity, risky alcohol use or tobacco use versus no intervention (i.e. wait-list, usual practice or minimal support control) or another implementation strategy. Implementation strategies could include those identified by the Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) taxonomy such as quality improvement initiatives and education and training, as well as other strategies. Implementation interventions could target policies or practices directly instituted in the workplace environment, as well as workplace-instituted efforts encouraging the use of external health promotion services (e.g. gym membership subsidies). Data collection and analysis: Review authors working in pairs independently performed citation screening, data extraction and 'Risk of bias' assessment, resolving disagreements via consensus or a third reviewer. We narratively synthesised findings for all included trials by first describing trial characteristics, participants, interventions and outcomes. We then described the effect size of the outcome measure for policy or practice implementation. We performed meta-analysis of implementation outcomes for trials of comparable design and outcome. Main results: We included six trials, four of which took place in the USA. Four trials employed randomised controlled trial (RCT) designs. Trials were conducted in workplaces from the manufacturing, industrial and services-based sectors. The sample sizes of workplaces ranged from 12 to 114. Workplace policies and practices targeted included: healthy catering policies; point-of-purchase nutrition labelling; environmental supports for healthy eating and physical activity; tobacco control policies; weight management programmes; and adherence to guidelines for staff health promotion. All implementation interventions utilised multiple implementation strategies, the most common of which were educational meetings, tailored interventions and local consensus processes. Four trials compared an implementation strategy intervention with a no intervention control, one trial compared different implementation interventions, and one three-arm trial compared two implementation strategies with each other and a control. Four trials reported a single implementation outcome, whilst the other two reported multiple outcomes. Investigators assessed outcomes using surveys, audits and environmental observations. We judged most trials to be at high risk of performance and detection bias and at unclear risk of reporting and attrition bias. Of the five trials comparing implementation strategies with a no intervention control, pooled analysis was possible for three RCTs reporting continuous score-based measures of implementation outcomes. The meta-analysis found no difference in standardised effects (standardised mean difference (SMD) '0.01, 95% CI '0.32 to 0.30; 164 participants; 3 studies; low certainty evidence), suggesting no benefit of implementation support in improving policy or practice implementation, relative to control. Findings for other continuous or dichotomous implementation outcomes reported across these five trials were mixed. For the two non-randomised trials examining comparative effectiveness, both reported improvements in implementation, favouring the more intensive implementation group (very low certainty evidence). Three trials examined the impact of implementation strategies on employee health behaviours, reporting mixed effects for diet and weight status (very low certainty evidence) and no effect for physical activity (very low certainty evidence) or tobacco use (low certainty evidence). One trial reported an increase in absolute workplace costs for health promotion in the implementation group (low certainty evidence). None of the included trials assessed adverse consequences. Limitations of the review included the small number of trials identified and the lack of consistent terminology applied in the implementation science field, which may have resulted in us overlooking potentially relevant trials in the search. Authors' conclusions: Available evidence regarding the effectiveness of implementation strategies for improving implementation of health-promoting policies and practices in the workplace setting is sparse and inconsistent. Low certainty evidence suggests that such strategies may make little or no difference on measures of implementation fidelity or different employee health behaviour outcomes. It is also unclear if such strategies are cost-effective or have potential unintended adverse consequences. The limited number of trials identified suggests implementation research in the workplace setting is in its infancy, warranting further research to guide evidence translation in this setting.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD012439
Number of pages123
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


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