Work and Weight: Don’t Let Your Job Add Pounds

by Wellness Editor – MH

Ever struggle with a thickening waistline after taking a certain job? You’re hardly alone; many workers must contend with extra pounds after spending day after day chained to a desk. Working a sedentary type of job, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your weight in check. The tried-and-true combination of diet and exercise can help workers in all fields maintain decent overall health.

Occupation and Obesity Risk

A 2014 study, examining the prevalence of obesity in various occupations, appeared in the online journal Preventing Chronic Disease (this journal is published by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). The PCD report surveyed nearly 38,000 workers in the state of Washington, finding that nearly one-quarter qualified as obese.

The participants of the study were categorized by profession, with each type of job being assigned its own obesity rate. The top ten jobs with the highest rate of obesity are shown below:

Profession/Job

Percentage of Obese Workers

Truck Drivers

38.6%

Transportation and Material Moving

37.9%

Protective Services

33.3%

Cleaning and Building Services

29.5%

Mechanics and Repairers

28.9%

Health Services

28.8%

Administrative Support

27.9%

Personal Services

27.2%

Technicians (plus related support)

26.6%

Precision Production and Plant Operators

26.1%

The study also outlined the ten jobs with the lowest obesity rates:

Profession/Job

Percentage of Obese Workers

Health-diagnosing occupations

11.6%

Natural and social scientists

17.3%

Postsecondary teachers

17.6%

Health assessment and treating (not including registered nurses)

18.2%

Other professional specialties

19.7%

Construction

19.9%

Food preparation and service

20.1%

Engineers, architects, and surveyors

20.2%

Lawyers and judges

21.7%

Math and computer scientists

21.8%

 

Despite the fact that certain jobs appeared to carry a greater obesity risk than others, the researchers also noted that other factors influenced the subjects’ weight. Workers who exercised more frequently and ate more produce were generally found to be in better shape.

This wasn’t the first study to take a close look at job-related weight gain. In 2013, the well-known employment website CareerBuilder.com released its own report on the subject. While featuring a much smaller survey size (3700 workers), the study did include some noteworthy findings. For example, 41 percent of respondents stated that they had put on weight during their current job. Many in this group had seen their weight increase by fairly sizable amounts; 59 percent claimed they had put on 10 or more pounds, whereas 30 reported a weight increase of 20 pounds or greater.

This report also highlighted the jobs that were most associated with weight gain:

Profession/Job

Percentage of Respondents who Claimed to Have Gained Weight

Administrative assistant

69%

Engineer

56%

Teacher/instructor K-12

51%

Nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant

51%

IT manager/network administrator

51%

Attorney/judge/legal professional

48%

Machine operator/assembly/production worker

45%

Scientist, biological/physical/social

39%

 

While this list differs significantly from the data produced in the 2014 Preventing Chronic Disease, there is some degree of overlap between the two reports. For example, the 2014 study included “administrative support” on its list of jobs with the highest obesity rates, whereas CareerBuilder.com’s research found that “administrative assistants” were most likely to report weight gains. Likewise, the PCD list of waistline expanding jobs includes “health services.” This term would seem to encompass “nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant,” two of the jobs which CareerBuilder.com found among the most likely to add pounds to workers.

Regardless of which survey is more accurate, there do seem to be some work-related behaviors that go hand-in-hand with weight gain. The CareerBuilder.com survey asked workers to provide explanations as to why they put on extra pounds. In answering this question, the most common answer involved the fact that many workers are effectively anchored to their work stations; 56% of workers cited “sitting at my desk most of the day” as the central cause of their weight problems. Other main reasons given included stress-induced eating (35 percent), eating out on a regular basis (26 percent), frequent raids on office candy jars (17 percent) and eating foods at workplace celebrations and events (17 percent).

Staying Thin at the Office

It’s virtually impossible to change the nature of sedentary jobs; an administrative assistant that uses a computer all day, for example, rarely has an opportunity to get out of his or her chair and move around. Furthermore, Americans are spending more and more time stuck in neutral at work, a trend that has been gaining steam over the last several decades. In 1960, physical activity was a regular part of roughly half of all private-sector jobs. Since that time, the percentage of Americans in labor-intensive fields like manufacturing, mining, construction and farming has declined considerably. Many adults now find themselves working in jobs in retail, education and business. As of 2011, only one in five workers was employed in a job that required significant physical exertion.

While many jobs compel workers to spend hours at a desk, work-related weight gain isn’t unavoidable. Adhering to a few simple guidelines could prove very helpful in maintaining a trim physique:

Steer Clear of Vending Machines – Many office complexes feature several vending machines, offering a large selection of snacks to hungry workers. Unfortunately, very few of these options are actually healthy; instead, many vending machine items are loaded with sugar, sodium and other diet-busting ingredients. As tempting as they may be, it’s best to pass on vending machine offerings in favor of healthier alternatives.

Avoid Comfort Eating – Practically everyone experiences stress at their job at some point or another. The way this problem is handled, however, can vary significantly from person to person. Some people cope with work-induced stress by routinely indulging in fattening snacks. While such foods might offer a short-term mental pick-me-up, they can also have a negative long-term impact on body weight.

Bring a Bag Lunch to Work – Many workers satisfy their afternoon cravings by getting lunch from a deli or restaurant. The drawback of these meals is that they often harbor large amounts of fat, sodium and sugars. Microwaveable foods, while undeniably convenient, also include many of the same unhealthy ingredients. A homemade lunch is a great way to ward off hunger pains without sabotaging your diet. When preparing a lunch, try to include whole-grain foods that are high in fiber. It would also be wise to throw fruits and veggies into the mix.

Squeeze in a Workout – Some office buildings have their very own gym, complete with a wide range of exercise equipment. If you have a long enough lunchtime break, try and fit in a brief workout. A mid-day exercise session doesn’t have to be especially long or taxing; simply jogging on a treadmill or taking a quick spin on a stationary bike can burn off a number of calories.

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