What Role Do Our Jobs Play in Obesity?

If physical exertion at work was counted, more US adults would meet minimum recommendations for aerobic physical activity than previously estimated. (Image: Terry J. Alcorn/iStockphoto.com)

The US workplace may not be the calorie-burner that it was 50 years ago, but a new study indicates that more adults in the United States would meet minimum physical activity recommendations if their energy expenditures at work were taken into account.

Researchers from Washington State report in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that the proportion of US adults who meet the aerobic physical activity minimum would increase from 64.3% to 70.8% if walking or heavy labor at work was counted.

The findings come on the heels of another study released earlier this week that showed the proportion of US private industry jobs requiring at least moderate activity has decreased from 48% to 20% since 1960. Researchers said in the journal PLoS ONE that in today’s more sedentary jobs, US workers use 124 to 140 fewer calories daily, which accounts for some of the increase in obesity in the United States in recent decades.

The MMWR analysis used data from a 2007 random telephone survey of 386 397 US adults who answered questions about physical demands at work and leisure-time activity. Federal guidelines advise adults to get at least 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. But the guidelines do not distinguish between occupational and leisured activity.

Counting work-related activity provides a “modest contribution” toward meeting physical activity goals, the researchers said. Their analysis showed that Hispanic men and men with less than a high school education had the greatest gains in meeting physical activity recommendations when exertion on the job was counted.

Among Hispanic men, the proportion meeting the guidelines would increase from 60.6% to 75% if work-related activity was counted. Among men with less than a high school education, the proportion would increase from 55.7% to 71.6%.

Categories: Obesity, Occupational and Environmental Medicine