Obesity in the workplace is an unfortunate growing occurrence, with consequences for both workers and their employers. Almost two thirds of Canadian adults are now overweight and obese. Research has found that the combination of a sedentary job and poor eating habits often leads to obesity, thereby increasing the risk of various other diseases. Obese workers have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gall bladder disease, and some cancers (1). Studies show that obesity may have a negative impact on workers primarily through presenteeism otherwise known as reduced productivity on the job (2).
Regrettably, obesity is estimated to now be costing Canadian employers over 1.3 billion dollars a year.
The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), which began in 2000/2001 had some major insights pertaining to obesity in the workplace (3). The survey collected population-level information on health determinants, health status and health system utilization. Obese women and men were more likely than those with normal weight to report reduced work activities due to a long-term health problems.
And what about the impact of stress in the workplace on obesity?
Other research actually reveals that stress can contribute to obesity via its effects on behaviour and metabolism (1). Workers that report high job strain were more likely to be obese. High job strain comes from having high psychological demands (how mentally challenging a job is) and low job control. This suggests that obesity may be a result of both the biological and behavioural effects of stress. As many employers realize, obesity can also be caused by unhealthy coping mechanisms such as increased alcohol consumption, overeating and physical inactivity (4). However, although higher job strain may precede obesity, being obese at work may also increase work stress.
Further, studies have demonstrated that sleep is negatively impacted during periods of high stress. When individuals do not have enough sleep, various changes can happen, primarily in regards to appetite (5). When people do not achieve a good night’s rest (7-8 hours for most adults) appetite increases as does cravings for junk foods. Individuals who are tired may also be too fatigued to exercise. Research shows that both children and adults who have reduced sleep tend to weigh more than those who have more rest (6,7).
To truly affect change in the workplace, employers must tackle obesity by addressing stress. Mindfulness is a very effective stress management technique that can easily be implemented into the work place. This method has also been shown to encourage mindful eating thus encouraging weight loss (8). Mindfulness has also been shown to also increase productivity and focus. These mindfulness techniques can easily be incorporated into the workday. Once employees learn the simple practises they can be applied prior to eating a meal, during meetings, or at any point throughout the day.
- Brunner, Eric J., Tarani Chandola and Michael G. Marmot. 2007. "Prospective effect of job strain on general and central obesity in the Whitehall II Study." American Journal of Epidemiology. Advance access published January 22. p. 1-10.
- Gates, Donna M., Paul Succop, Bonnie J. Brehm, Gordon L. Gillespie and Benjamin D. Sommers. 2008. "Obesity and presenteeism: The impact of body mass index on workplace productivity." Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Vol. 50, no. 1. January. p. 39-45.
- Stats Canada: Obesity on the Job, 2009
- Park, Jungwee. 2007. "Work stress and job performance." Perspectives on Labour and Income. Vol. 8, no. 12. December. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-X. p. 5-17.
- Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Hanlon EC, Tasali E, Leproult R, Stuhr KL, Doncheck E, de Wit H, Hillard CJ, Van Cauter E. Sleep. 2016 Mar 1;39(3):653-64. doi: 10.5665/sleep.5546. PMID: 26612385
- Patel SR, Hu FB. Short sleep duration and weight gain: a systematic review. Obesity(Silver Spring). 2008; 16:643-53
- Taveras EM, Gilliman MW, Pena MM, Redline S, Rifas Shiman SL. Chronic Sleep Curtailment and Adiposity. Pediatrics. 2014 Jun;133(6):1013-22
- Harvard Helath, 2016