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As Occupations Become More Sedentary, Obesity Becomes More Prevalent


Technology gives us a lot of advantages in the workplace, but one area that may be seeing its downside is the health and obesity level of employees. Over the past 50 years, as work has shifted from agriculture and manufacturing to the more sedentary office job, obesity has significantly increased from less than 10% in the 1950s to more than 30% today.

The Average American Worker Burns 100 to 140 Fewer Calories Per Day

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater. This is equivalent to being at least 20% over an ideal weight for a person’s height. Many factors contribute to obesity, including poor diet, lack of exercise, hormonal disturbances, genetics, and emotional factors. In the workplace, long hours can certainly lead to eating more packaged, high-fat high-sugar convenience foods and skipping daily exercise.

Researchers from Louisiana State University used data gathered from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They learned that only approximately 20% of private industry jobs today require a moderate level of physical effort, compared to 50% fifty years ago.

The average American employee today requires at least 100 fewer calories to do their job each day than in the early 1960’s. This additional level could add up to 18,000 additional calories over the course of a typical work year (180 days) and pack on 4.4 pounds of excess weight. Breaking it down between genders, the researchers found that men in particular use fewer calories than they did in the 60’s, burning 142 less on average.

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Even getting to and from work has changed over the course of the past 5 decades and contributes to lowered energy expenditure. The authors note that back then, more people commuted to work by bus or train and got off and walked to their place of employment. Today, many Americans drive right up to the doors of our place of business.

The researchers confirmed the link between more sedentary work and obesity by measuring the weight of the average worker then and now. In 1960, the average employee weight 76.9 kg or about 169 pounds. In 2003-2006, the average worker was above 200 pounds.

Lead author John S. McIlhenny said, “"Yesterday's jobs have been replaced by sitting or sedentary activity. In the last fifty years, we estimate that daily occupation-related energy expenditure has decreased by more than 100 calories per day, and this reduction accounts for a significant portion of the increase in mean US body weights for women and men."

The researchers acknowledge that they did not factor in other contributors to obesity, such as leisure time activity (or inactivity) and a greater tendency for eating out (large portion sizes).

Adult calorie requirements vary depending on gender, age, height, weight, activity level and other factors, but typically a small sedentary woman needs about 1,400 to 1,600 calories a day, and a sedentary man about 2,000 to 2,200 a day. The recommended amount of daily exercise is equivalent to 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity.

Journal Reference:
"Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity."Timothy S. Church, Diana M. Thomas, Catrine Tudor-Locke, Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Conrad P. Earnest, Ruben Q. Rodarte, Corby K. Martin, Steven N. Blair, Claude Bouchard. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19657. Published online 25 May 2011. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0019657



You can combine this with working longer hours and also being sedentary at home because of computers and such.