Obesity Linked to Working Conditions

Obesity Linked to Working Conditions
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Marissa Cevallos
May 28, 2011

Natural SocietyNow you can blame your job for something other than stress. New research estimates that, every day, Americans are burning at least 100 fewer calories at work than they did in the 1960’s; in other words, our jobs are making us fat.

The authors of the new study are blunt in their conclusion:

“Over the last 50 years in the U.S. we estimate that daily occupation-related energy expenditure has decreased by more than 100 calories, and this reduction in energy expenditure accounts for a significant portion of the increase in mean U.S. body weights for women and men.”

Researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., assessed the changing physical activity levels of different types of occupations using decades of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also parsed an array of population data from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Then they calculated how many calories average-weight adults of a certain period would have burned in an eight-hour day.

They found not only that people were burning fewer calories in 2003-06 than they did in 1960-62, but that this could account for the average weight gain seen during that time.

Hard to believe? Read the full results, published onlineWednesday in PLoS ONE.

The authors write in the discussion of their paper:

“Given that it is unlikely that there will be a return to occupations that demand moderate levels of physical activity, our findings provide further strong evidence of the public health importance of promoting physically active lifestyles outside of the work day.”

Scientists are discovering that the health effects of not moving are more than just a missed opportunity to sweat off an extra candy bar. Sedentary time has been linked to higher death rates—the New York Times article “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?” describes research to understand the metabolic effects of sitting.

And some employers are catching on—some workplaces, described in this L.A. Times article, have on-site yoga and treadmill desks.