Katherine Lienhard’s MSc Thesis Defence

Title: “Exploring the Impact of Physical Activity- and Nutrition-Focused Workplace Wellness Programs on Employee Quality of Life”

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Darren Warburton (Kinesiology)
Committee members: Dr. Tamara Cohen (Land and Food Systems), Dr. Michael Koehle (Kinesiology), Dr. Tanis Mihalynuk (Vancouver Coastal Health)
Chair: Dr. Bill Sheel (Kinesiology)


Background: The majority of employed Canadians work forty hours per week, spending approximately eight hours per day at the workplace – defined as the single space where employees of an organization conduct their work tasks. Over two-thirds of chronic diseases are attributable to sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, and cigarette smoking. Promoting and/or offering physical activity and proper nutrition at the workplace has been shown to increase activity and improve dietary choices both during and outside of work hours. Further, diet quality and activity levels play major roles in a person’s overall quality of life, particularly when focused on concurrently. Measuring quality of life, which includes physical, emotional, mental, and financial factors, is often conducted via survey, where results can be averaged to create an overall wellness score for each individual. This wellness score represents quality of life. For these reasons, it is vital that more research into workplace wellness programs be conducted, particularly of programs that offer both nutrition and physical activity components.

Purpose: The aim of this study was to determine if nutrition and physical activity workplace wellness programs improve employee quality of life. A systematic review with the same aim was also conducted. The secondary aim of this study was to determine if nutrition and physical activity workplace wellness programs improve diet quality and/or increase physical activity of employees who participate in the programs.

Primary Hypothesis: Employees who participate in a workplace wellness program with nutrition and physical activity components will have significantly higher wellness scores compared to employees at their company who do not participate.

Methods: Twenty-eight employees at four Vancouver, British Columbia companies with wellness programs were recruited to complete a survey. Data collection included the WellSuite® IV Health Risk Assessment for the Workforce (Non-U.S.) survey which contains 44 questions, including self-reported height, weight, and waist circumference, as well as dietary choices, social wellness, work satisfaction, and mental health. For categorization into comparison groups, employees were asked about their level of participation in the wellness program at their site and how long they had worked at their company. Employees who participated in their wellness program 25% or less of the time served as the control group, with the remainder of employees making up the experimental group, participating more than 25% of the time in their wellness program. Data were analyzed using the program Jamovi and described using descriptive statistics, contingency and frequency tables, ordinal logistic regression, non-parametric one-way ANOVA, independent samples T-tests, and one-way ANOVA.

Results: The data suggests that those in the experimental group were more likely to have a higher Overall Wellness Score (p = 0.025), Fitness Score (p = 0.013), and to self-report higher work satisfaction, life satisfaction, overall health, and happiness (non-significant) than those in the control group. Nutrition Score increased with increasing level of participation in the workplace wellness programs across all companies (p=0.035). Though limited by sample size and selection bias, this study supports the existing literature in the field and adds to the discussion on measuring quality of life and other health-related outcomes of workplace wellness programs.

Conclusion: The consistent and optimistic findings of this study are promising but inconclusive regarding the quality of life and overall health impact of workplace wellness programs that incorporate both physical activity and nutrition components. Future studies may benefit from aiming to limit confounding variables.