For Some, Weight Problems Are an Occupational Hazard

It has been well established that numerous factors other than liking your food too much can contribute to weight problems, including stress, sleeplessness, poverty, and even geographical differences. Less attention has been paid to the idea that people’s jobs may also play a role in how they are able to manage their weight.

Workers Who Must Sit for Hours Every Day
Run the Highest Risk of Becoming Obese

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to shed some light on the subject and has found that work conditions can indeed be connected to weight issues. The study report concluded that “obesity prevalence and health risk behaviors vary substantially by occupation.”

Not surprisingly, those whose work requires them to remain sedentary for hours on end run the highest risk of becoming overweight and developing weight-related health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

After reviewing the health status of tens of thousands of workers in the State of Washington by using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey system, over a period of six years – which included studies of demographics, occupational physical demands, diet, lifestyle habits, and outside-of-work physical activity – the researchers found that truck drivers and security personnel have the highest rates of overweight and obesity.

Long hours of sitting in a vehicle or in front of a monitor does not give workers enough time to burn off calories and promote their overall physical well-being. But the quality of people’s diet also makes a difference, the study found. For instance, healthcare workers tended to eat a healthier and more balanced diet than members of many other professions and were in a better position to control their weight.

Age also seemed to matter, with older workers being more likely to become overweight than younger ones, and men more than women.

Education was another factor. College graduates showed on average a lower prevalence of obesity than the less educated. Professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and academics apparently did well, probably for a number of reasons the study did not speculate about.

Still, occupation alone was not found to be a sure indicator for weight problems. In fact, even in the highest risk groups, the prevalence of obesity was not greater than in the country as a whole, which is currently at 35.7 percent, according to CDC statistics.

What this means, however, is that more attention must be paid to the health needs of workers and how workplace-related health concerns can be addressed more effectively in the future.

“Employers, policy makers, and health promotion practitioners can use [the study’s] results to target and prioritize workplace obesity prevention and health behavior promotion programs,” the researchers suggest.

And indeed, more and more companies are finding that investing in the health of their workforce makes sense, not just because it is the right thing to do but also because it benefits their bottom line as they are able to reduce sick days, productivity loss and insurance premiums. But especially in industries that provide mostly low-wage jobs, we still have long ways to go.

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