Dumping Workplace Stress a Major Must in Combating Obesity: Study

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Shainhouse_311015Stress is far too common in people’s personal lives and it’s even more common in the workplace. Unfortunately, people often manage stress by increasing their consumption of high-fat and sugary foods, resulting in greater risk of abdominal obesity.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide investigated the different stressors occurring in the workplace and how they contribute to the obesity problem. While the workload demands of a job can be highly stressful, the researchers focused on stressors related to job control, specifically skill discretion, which involves the skill levels and creativity involved in approaching the workload, and decision authority, which relates to assessing employees and making authoritative decisions about the work. The study evaluated these two components and how they individually contribute to obesity using both BMI and waist circumference as obesity measures.

This cross-sectional study was part of the longitudinal North West Adelaide Health Study and included 450 employees who had been working at the same place for at least four years, most of whom were overweight or obese. The majority of participants had a household income of more than $80,000, were mostly educated, and were working professionals. Of the participants, more females reported having white-collar jobs but were more commonly working part-time compared to the men.

Findings revealed that among all participants, having greater skill discretion was associated with having a lower waist circumference, while having greater decision authority was associated with having a higher waist circumference. When evaluating BMI, increased skill discretion was associated with having a lower BMI, whereas decision authority was not significantly associated with BMI.

Furthermore, when evaluating participants based on gender, findings revealed that among both men and women separately, higher skill discretion was associated with lower waist circumference. Among men, increased BMI was associated with lower skill discretion, whereas there was no significant relationship found among women. It was also found that among women, there were no significant relationships between decision authority and waist circumference or BMI; among men, there was a positive association for waist circumference but not a significant association between decision authority and BMI.

As demonstrated, it is important to separate the various stress factors in the workplace and the risks they impose on employees’ health and unhealthy weight statuses. By not taking into consideration the individual factors such as skill discretion and decision authority, the importance of each one and its contribution to adverse health risks may be overlooked.

While the evidence may not be convincing enough to result in the immediate implementation of changes in the workplace just yet, it can definitely provide insight as to the future direction of the types of interventions that could be successful. Further research is necessary to incorporate such interventions since many waking hours are spent in the workplace and job strain is an important factor to consider in combating obesity. Further, other measurements of obesity besides BMI should be used when determining weight status of individuals such as waist circumference. This will allow for a more accurate way in evaluating weight status during interventions in the workplace aimed at improving employees’ health.

The obesity epidemic is a complex one as there are many factors contributing to its cause and few interventions that have shown to successfully reduce its rates. Obesity has been described as an excessive amount of fat accumulation that puts an individual’s health at an increased risk of many debilitating diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and even some cancers.

Obesity has been measured in various ways but most commonly, it is measured using body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. However, this is not the most accurate method of determining weight status. Many body builders or lean individuals have higher BMIs due to increased weight resulting from great muscle mass, which weighs more than fat. Waist circumference is a better indication of obesity status as it identifies the areas of fat accumulation. Further, abdominal obesity has been strongly linked to the aforementioned chronic diseases.

Although obesity is thought to be a result of fat accumulation by simply consuming far more calories than burned from physiological functioning and physical activity, it is a much more complex matter. Other factors that need to be considered include environmental, social, cultural, and genetic factors. These may play a role in altering physiological responses to metabolism and may contribute to reasons leading to increased food intake such as stress.

Source for Today’s Article:
Bean, C.G., et al., “Differential associations of job control components with both waist circumference and body mass index,” Social Science & Medicine 2015; 143: 1, doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.08.034.

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