Obesity Weighed Down Worker Performance

Obesity may lead to fatigue and lower endurance on the job

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) One in three US adults are now considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and this weight problem may be taking its toll in the workplace.

The CDC has reported that the American workforce has become increasingly overweight and unhealthy. Compared to those of normal weight, obese individuals have more lost workdays, higher rates of injury and higher medical costs, according to a new study.

In the same investigation, researchers observed that those with excessive weight were less able to carry out tasks than people with normal weight. Age, however, did not appear to be a factor in work performance.

"Maintain a healthy weight to improve energy levels."

The report was co-authored by Lara Cavuoto, PhD, a professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, and Maury Nussbaum, PhD, professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The study evaluated the endurance of 32 people.

The participants fell into four categories—non-obese young and obese young (between 18 and 25 years old) and non-obese older and obese older (between the ages of 50 and 65).

All individuals performed three tasks designed to test hand grip, intermittent shoulder elevation and a simulated assembly operation. The work place was similar to that of a manufacturing setting. Participants had periods of work and rest.

Scientists found that the non-obese had endurance times that were 60 percent greater than for the obese.

They also noted that older workers had longer endurance times, but obesity and age together did not appear to affect results. The factors that slowed performance in the obese were independent of age.

“Previous studies have indicated that both age and obesity lead to decreased mobility, particularly when it comes to walking and performing lower extremity tasks,” Dr. Nussbaum said in a press release. “However, we found no evidence of an interactive effect of obesity and age on endurance times, which is contrary to previous findings.”

The obese groups had more strength loss, increases in discomfort and declines in task performance, the researchers reported.

Dr. Cavuoto added that these results may lead to the development of more workplace design guidelines that take into account the limitations of the obese.

The study was published online in July in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 25, 2014
Last Updated:
July 28, 2014