Decrease In Workplace Activity Is Making Americans Overweight

May 26, 2011

Businesswoman eating pizza at office deskAccording to a new study, the workplace is making U.S. men and women overweight.

USA Today reported that researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from the 1960s to 2008. They found that over the past five decades, physical activity during work has dramatically declined, causing men to burn an average of 142 fewer calories a day at work and women, 124.

"We have transitioned from jobs that primarily involved doing physical activity on our feet to ones where most of us make our living while sitting," said Timothy Church, lead author of the study.

According to The New York Times, the report stated that 50 percent of jobs in the 1960s were in manufacturing and farming, which required moderate physical activity. Today, however, 80 percent of jobs are sedentary or require little activity. As a press release noted, this data suggests that diet and caloric intake are not the only culprits in the obesity epidemic.

"If we're going to get to the root of what's causing the obesity epidemic, work-related physical activity needs to be in the discussion," said Church to The New York Times. "There are a lot of people who say it's about food. But the work environment has changed so much we have to rethink how we're going to attack this problem."

Indeed, USA Today noted that approximately one in three Americans are obese, which is an increase from about 13 percent in the early 1960s.

Moreover, Ross C. Brownson, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told The New York Times that health care professionals and the general public need to broaden the definition of physical activity as it is not something that should only occur during planned exercise such as running and working out at the gym.

While previous research has hinted to an association between weight gain and lack of activity in the workplace, Church's study could be the first to estimate how much daily caloric expenditure is lost while sitting in front of the office computer. Church pointed out that the findings should help health care professionals, who have spent years focusing primarily on eating and physical activity outside of work, refocus their efforts against obesity. It should also put pressure on employers to come up with new workplace health initiatives to encourage more physical activity at work. Some companies have already set up standing workstations, while others are experimenting with treadmill-style desks. Employers can also encourage walking by placing printers farther away from desks and cubicles.

"The activity we get at work has to be intentional," said Barbara E. Ainsworth, president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine and an exercise researcher at Arizona State University. "When people think of obesity they always think of food first, and that's one side of it, but it's high time to look at the amount of time we spend inactive at work."

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Less Active at Work, Americans Have Packed on Pounds," well.blogs.nytimes.com, May 25, 2011, Tara Parker-Pope

"Pennington Biomedical Research Center Study Suggests Decreases in U.S. Occupation Energy Levels a Significant Trigger of Obesity Epidemic," PRNewswire.com, May 25, 2011

"Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity," plosone.org, May 25, 2011, 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

"Workers more obese, burning fewer calories than ever before," yourlife.usatoday.com, May 25, 2011, Nanci Hellmich

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