Research Says: Maybe Your Job Is Making You Fat

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First, let’s starts with the obvious: The CDC recognizes obesity as a national epidemic.

Nothing new there.

And now here’s the not-so-obvious: Your job could be part of the problem.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine researchers looked at data from over 15,000 employees in a couple dozen fields and found that more than 1 in 4 were obese, as defined as having a body mass index measurement of 30 or over. Then researchers took things a step further by claiming that in cases where “workers were employed for more than 40 hours per week” those extra pounds could be blamed on the work environment. Furthermore, researchers also claimed that “exposure to a ‘hostile work environment’ were significantly associated with an increased prevalence of obesity.”

I must say that the first part about working more than 40 hours a week definitely makes sense since obviously working long hours leaves less time for exercise. But when looking at this study, what really piqued my interest was the whole claim about how a ‘hostile work environment’ could contribute to becoming obese. So let’s talk a bit more about that.

To get a better idea of how work environment can influence health and weight, researchers asked study participants if they’d been “threatened, bullied or harassed at work” during the last 12 months. Here were the results:

Those who answered “yes” to being “threatened, bullied or harassed at work” were more likely to be obese, although researchers weren’t clear about cause and effect. However researchers did speculate that rather than harassment leading to overeating, it might be the other way around, and, “workers who are already obese may be more likely to experience harassment or bullying on the job.”


So now, are you curious about which occupations are most likely to have obese workers, even after non-work-related factors such as gender, race, exercise habits and diet are taken into consideration? Here are the jobs most likely to test your waistline:

Healthcare and social assistance

Sadly enough I wasn’t shocked at all to see healthcare professionals on this list. I once was among the ranks of overweight physicians, and I know many physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals that are overweight or obese. As far as how many, researchers estimated an overall obesity rate of 32.2 percent in this sector, but it wasn’t across the board. Those battling obesity tended to be lower-paid healthcare workers, rather than doctors.  So it seems, the less you make, the more you weigh.

Architects and engineers

This group showed an obesity rate of greater than 34 percent, and researchers also said a previous study had shown low obesity rates among female architects and surveyors.

Public Administration

For some, working for the government can be a grind. Dealing with the public, ditto. And workers in this industry were found to have an obesity rate of 36.3 percent.

Community and service workers

Like public administration, community and service workers tend to do a lot of sitting, and talking on the phone in a cubicle or facing unhappy “clients.” And thus, this group was found to have an obesity rate of 35.6 percent.

Protective services

Police and security guards showed the highest rate of obesity in the study, at nearly 41 percent, and researchers blamed a lot of it on the stressful nature of the job.

Are We Actually In Worse Shape?

At the conclusion of the study researchers also made the shocking claim that despite the already high obesity percentages above, we’re probably in even worse shape than the picture that’s being presented. The reason for this is because researchers admit they depended on people volunteering their weight and height, and fact is, people often lie about stuff like that.

What Does This All Mean?

Well first and foremost, if you’re overweight or obese, hopefully this bit of info will help open your eyes as to how the dynamics of your job could be negatively affecting your health. Now all this said, I’m definitely not one for scapegoating, so simply blaming ones job for being fat or unhealthy won’t fly with me. At the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our health and making healthy lifestyle choices. Simply having a job that’s associated with obesity doesn’t mean you’re destined to become a statistic, and there are many small, yet significant steps you can start taking now to prevent weight gain. Start with little things like:


  • Eating a healthy breakfast and skipping that morning donut
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Parking your car at the farthest spot so you have to walk more
  • Taking 10 minute breaks to exercise in your office, and
  • Using your lunch break to walk around your office building

Last but not least, for employers and supervisors looking to boost employee morale and productivity, hopefully these research findings will also encourage you to foster a workplace that promotes wellness by implementing programs that educate workers on the importance of fitness, healthy eating, as well as camaraderie among coworkers.

What do you think about the research findings connecting obesity to occupation? Do you think certain work environments make people more prone to becoming overweight or obese? − Doc

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