Staying Healthy at Work: Success and Physical Activity in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Utah

worksitephysicalactivityAbout our Assessment of Evidence-Based Practices to Improve Worksite Physical Activity Project

In 2014, NNPHI was funded to conduct an Assessment of Evidence-Based Practices to Improve Worksite Physical Activity in collaboration with CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). The purpose of the project was to identify key facilitators and barriers for worksite physical activity programs with the ultimate goal of helping employers implement effective and feasible programs to increase physical activity. The evaluation consisted of both a literature review—an abstraction process synthesizing peer-reviewed articles to add to the evidence-based body of knowledge around worksite physical activity best practices—as well as a qualitative component in the form of success stories.

Success in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Utah: Our Methods and Purpose

Three states were identified to participate: Mississippi, Kentucky, and Utah. These states were nominated by CDC project officers because of their known work and engagement in worksite physical activity endeavors.

The success stories were developed with the results of nine telephone key informant interviews—three from each state—with a total of 12 interviewees. Interviews were conducted in May-June 2015. State employees representing diverse perspectives were selected: some interviewees had been responsible for and involved in the implementation of their worksite physical activity endeavors whereas others were simply participants.

Additional data sources were used to augment and contextualize the interview data. This included worksite physical activity related: advertisement materials, brochures, PowerPoint presentations, and in some cases, government provided materials. These data sources were provided by the interviewees.

We see the purpose of these success stories as two-fold: 1) It’s a tool by which each state can show off the results of their hard work and dedication; and 2) It provides guidance, lessons learned, and potential barriers for employers hoping to implement worksite physical activity programs within their own organization.

Pathways to Successful Implementation: Lessons Learned

Interviewees were asked to provide recommendations for worksites hoping to implement similar worksite physical activity initiatives. Findings include:

  • Be patient and understand that significant change takes time.
  • Avoid discouragement as a result of low participation.
  • Train supervisors and leaders on how to support and promote physical activities in the workplace.
  • Centralize resources for agencies to create onsite fitness centers, onsite physical activities, and listings of local resources.
  • Send out emails to remind employees of the worksite physical activity options available to them.
  • Seek support from directors, management, the people that are in charge of the building (be aware of the restrictions posed by your building), and even the governor.

Interviewees also provided valuable insight on some of the barriers they’ve encountered in implementing their initiatives. Here are some highlights:


In one state, some state agencies were more invested in worksite physical activity than others, based on their worksite wellness champion and the organizational structure/staff buy-in. Without significant oversight for their worksite wellness mandate, there were inconsistent levels of participation from agency to agency.

Workplace Culture

Sustainable worksite physical activity success is largely contingent on a supportive culture, including both leadership and staff buy-in. One interviewee explained that though they were eager to find opportunities to exercise in the workplace, they didn’t feel there was mutual support and interest among coworkers.

Lack of Education

Despite an agency wide physical activity policy and robust incentive system, one interviewee felt here were gaps in comprehensive education around the importance of physical activity.

Personal Reflections

As an evaluator with a special interest and expertise in qualitative evaluation, this project was particularly exciting for me. I have plenty of experience conducting interviews and focus groups and analyzing qualitative data; using multiple data sources in conjunction with interview data to tell a story, however, was a new challenge.

The process by which I most often analyze qualitative data is by using the grounded theory approach , which is basically a process by which the researcher allows the data to speak for itself. Initially this process was no different—I synthesized interview data in an effort to identify themes and to make sense of what the interviewees shared with me. However in utilizing supplemental materials to contribute to the analysis, I was responsible for applying an additional layer of context. For example, one success story that highlights worksites engaged in a state-level, governor-facilitated challenge is told both with the knowledge from users and with the actual challenge policy and procedures as issued by the state government. Additionally, another state was using policies and frameworks set forth by CDC and I was able to learn about their work in implementing those policies with the context of reviewing and understanding what those policies and frameworks actually were.

Overall the Success Stories entailed a new (to me) way to synthesize qualitative data and I’m happy for the experience. It required a shift in thinking and an interruption of my usual process–but that’s a good thing. It can get dangerous for an evaluator to think they know exactly what they’re doing at all times; we need to shake things up every once in awhile.

And now we present…

I learned a lot—both content-wise and by venturing into new methodological territory—but I’ll go ahead and let the stories speak for themselves.

Today marks our official dissemination of the success stories on the NNPHI website and we’re proud to share them:

Worksite Physical Activity Success in Kentucky: Change through Leadership and Cross-sector Collaboration

Worksite Physical Activity in Utah: Employee-Initiated Success

Worksite Physical Activity Success in Mississippi: Making an Impact with an Eye Toward the Future

Thank you to our generous interviewees for sharing their stories (contact information can be found at the bottom of each story).

For any questions/comments, please feel free to reach out to a member of the NNPHI Evaluation Team:

Brittany Bickford, MPH
Senior Research and Evaluation Analyst

Aaron Alford, PhD, MPH, PMP
Director, Research and Evaluation

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