Association of work-related and leisure-time physical activity with workplace food purchases, dietary quality, and health of hospital employees

BMC Public Health. 2019 Nov 27;19(1):1583. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7944-1.


Background: While leisure-time physical activity (PA) has been associated with reduced risk of cardiometabolic disease, less is known about the relationship between work-related PA and health. Work-related PA is often not a chosen behavior and may be associated with lower socioeconomic status and less control over job-related activities. This study examined whether high work-related PA and leisure-time PA reported by hospital employees were associated with healthier dietary intake and reductions in cardiometabolic risk.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional analysis of 602 hospital employees who used workplace cafeterias and completed the baseline visit for a health promotion study in 2016-2018. Participants completed the International Physical Activity Questionnaire and clinical measures of weight, blood pressure, HbA1c, and lipids. Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores were calculated from two 24-h dietary recalls, and a Healthy Purchasing Score was calculated based on healthfulness of workplace food/beverage purchases. Regression analyses examined Healthy Purchasing Score, HEI, and obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes/prediabetes by quartile of work-related PA, leisure-time PA, and sedentary time.

Results: Participants' mean age was 43.6 years (SD = 12.2), 79.4% were female, and 81.1% were white. In total, 30.3% had obesity, 20.6% had hypertension, 26.6% had prediabetes/diabetes, and 32.1% had hyperlipidemia. Median leisure-time PA was 12.0 (IQR: 3.3, 28.0) and median work-related PA was 14.0 (IQR: 0.0, 51.1) MET-hours/week. Higher leisure-time PA was associated with higher workplace Healthy Purchasing Score and HEI (p's < 0.01) and lower prevalence of obesity, diabetes/prediabetes, and hyperlipidemia (p's < 0.05). Work-related PA was not associated with Healthy Purchasing Score, HEI, or cardiometabolic risk factors. Increased sedentary time was associated with lower HEI (p = 0.02) but was not associated with the workplace Healthy Purchasing Score.

Conclusions: Employees with high work-related PA did not have associated reductions in cardiometabolic risk or have healthier dietary intake as did employees reporting high leisure-time PA. Workplace wellness programs should promote leisure-time PA and healthy food choices for all employees, but programs may need to be customized and made more accessible to meet the unique needs of employees who are physically active at work.

Trial registration: This trial was prospectively registered with (Identifier: NCT02660086) on January 21, 2016. The first participant was enrolled on September 16, 2016.

Keywords: Cardiometabolic risk; Leisure-time physical activity; Physical activity; Sedentary time; Work-related physical activity; Worksite wellness.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Consumer Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / standards*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personnel, Hospital / psychology*
  • Personnel, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Workplace

Associated data