Healthy living * Weight loss * Mental wellbeing

Is your job making you fat?

office stress can add to weight problems Work stress and desk jobs linked to obesity

Sitting at an office desk all day long staring at spreadsheets (or your Facebook updates) and being shouted at by your boss could be making you fat, according to a new US study of stressed workers.

Lack of physical exercise and chronic job stress are all linked to the likelihood of being overweight, and even eating a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables is no protection against the David Brents of this world.

In fact, only regular exercise seems to be the antidote to modern office life.

The study, which looked at the lifestyles of nearly 3,000 employees of a large manufacturing facility in New York state, found that around three quarters of the staff were classified as being overweight (Body Mass Index greater than 24.9). Contrary to popular conceptions of obese Americans being poor and uneducated, these workers were typically middle-aged, well-paid and highly educated.

The study dates back to 2005, and the company that agreed to participate was involved in drastic restructuring and layoffs. In interviews the employees confided to researchers that they were "stress eating" and burned out from "doing the work of five people."

The researchers discovered that employees working in the most high-job-strain conditions had almost one BMI unit more of weight than people who worked in more passive areas.

Stressful working conditions are known to impact health behaviours directly and indirectly. Directly, stress can affect the neuroendocrine system, resulting in abdominal fat, for example, or it may cause a decrease in sex hormones, which often leads to weight gain. Indirectly, stress is linked to the consumption of too many fatty or sugary foods and inactivity.

Recording the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten by the participants showed that this had no link to the participant's weight. However, more detailed analysis of the diet of the workers is required according to the researchers.

Another culprit linked to obesity was TV - among those who reported watching two to three hours per day, 77% were more likely to be overweight or obese.

Diana Fernandez, who led the study, called for companies to put more effort into helping employees cope with the stresses of the economic conditions: "In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs."

"It is important to focus on strengthening wellness programs to provide good nutrition, ways to deal with job demands, and more opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty," she said.

The study was funded by a grant from the American National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

This article was published on Thu 25 March 2010



Image © Kati Neudert - Fotolia.com


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