UBCO research finds ways to increase health of blue-collar workers

UBC Okanagan nursing prof Joan Bottorff investigated ways to get working men to eat healthy foods and get exercise through their day.

UBC researchers have developed a program that provides tools for blue-collar workers to take off their boots and get some physical exercise.

Despite studies that show men generally want to be healthy, there are very few workplace programs designed specifically for men that encourage healthy lifestyles.

A team of UBC researchers met with groups of men to discuss the best ways to support healthy eating and physical activity during their working days. While most men knew the importance of good health and had a desire to be healthy for their families, men who worked in traditionally male-dominated workplaces felt they were too tired or lacked the time to be physically active.

“The results of the discussions weren’t surprising,” says UBC Okanagan nursing professor Joan Bottorff, one of the study’s investigators. “We know most men are not meeting recommendations for physical activity or for fruit and vegetable consumption. Yet the men gave us some helpful suggestions about what might work while supporting them to make changes to improve their health.

Bottorff conducted a series of studies on mens’ health and fitness with fellow UBC researchers Cristina Caperchione and John Oliffe. In partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, the BC Cancer Agency, Northern Health and Athabasca University, the three created POWERPLAY, an interactive health promotion program designed for men who traditionally work in blue-collar professions.

“There are lots of effective workplace health promotion programs,” says Bottorff, director of UBC Okanagan’s Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention. “However, most of the programs are designed for the office environment and often fail to engage male employees.”

The researchers found that in addition to feeling tired or time-deficient, many men eat large meals to sustain themselves during the workday and knowingly skip fruits and vegetables because they were less filing. They also understood the importance of good health admitting they want to stay healthy to provide for their families.

POWERPLAY is designed to help men by providing a series of eating and physical activity challenges. The with men working in teams, and competing against each other. Along with providing motivational and creative messages, the program provides incentives, online resources, and policy suggestions for employers.

POWERPLAY, www.powerplayatwork.com, has been introduced at four northern BC workplaces: two trucking companies, a coal shipping terminal and a municipal work crew.

“Our goal is to assist more employers in using POWERPLAY to create workplace environments where men support each other in making lifestyle changes,” says Bottorff. “Men want to be around long-term to support their families and POWERPLAY includes the tools that can help them live healthier lifestyles.”

Several studies on POWERPLAY have been published, noting an increase in physical activity and better awareness of healthy living and eating. The most recent was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.