Workers could have a role to play when it comes to influencing their colleagues’ eating habits and exercise, a new study has found.

Researchers from Cologne and Utrecht say people are more inclined to tuck into fruit and vegetables and undertake exercise if their co-workers encourage healthy lifestyles or lead a healthy lifestyle themselves.

However, when it comes to physical activity, individuals are less likely to model their behaviour on their colleagues who exercise more, with researchers saying this could be because exercise happens outside of work so is therefore less visible.

The team say the role of co-workers in helping to develop healthier workplaces should be taken into consideration by health policymakers.

Researchers studied data from the European Sustainable Workforce Survey, which involved 4345 employees across 113 organisations. They examined the role of co-workers in two ways – those who encourage a healthy lifestyle and those who act as role models, observed and copied by colleagues.

Study lead Professor Dr Lea Ellwardt said: “Our study showed that employees are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables as well as engage in physical activity when their colleagues encourage a healthy lifestyle.

“The study is one of the first to address the role of co-workers’ behaviours using a network approach incorporating direct colleagues.”

He went on to say: “Our study implies that when designing health interventions, it is important to incorporate the work environment alongside other social actors such as partners, family members, and friends. Colleagues are relevant sources of social support when it comes to healthy behaviours and can act as role models.”

Read the full study in the journal BMC Public Health.

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