# Tuesday, March 10, 2009
                 

Statistics Canada has released a new study regarding obesity as it relates to job performance. The study shows that more Canadian workers are now obese, with the obesity rate climbing from 12.5% in the mid 1990's to 15.7% in 2005. Obesity is most prevalent among workers in the age range of 55 to 65; 21% of this workforce population was obese in 2005. Obesity is defined as any person whose body mass index (BMI) is over 30; 18.5 to 24.9 is defined as a normal weight range. Body mass index is calculated by a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters.

The study found that those who were obese found it harder to get their job done; some needed to cut back on their work activities as well as had a higher risk of being injured and/or requiring more days absent from work. Young men are almost 4 more times likely to be absent from work if they are obese. Obesity is also cited as the cause for women aged 35 to 54 to require either reduced work activities and/or disability days. Obese workers also have an increased probability of being hurt on the job; partially due to fatigue as well as physical limitations. As well, personal protective equipment may not be worn (or worn correctly), i.e. gloves and goggles. Certain medications may also increase the risk of being injured at work. Obese employees were found to have higher job strain (this is defined as high psychological demands combined with low job control.) These workers also felt that they received low social support from their colleagues and/or supervisors.

While obesity may be causing a problem in the workplace, the workplace may actually be the cause of some workers obesity problem. Canadians who work shift work and/or excessive hours tended to be at higher risk for being obese. A higher proportion of 'blue-collar' workers were found to be obese compared to those who work in the 'white-collar' professions. Irregular working hours associated with shift work can make it hard for employees to maintain a healthy eating schedule. Men who work more than 40 hours per week were more likely to obese than those who work a full-time schedule of 30 to 40 hours per week. Men between the ages of 35 to 54 with higher incomes tended to be more obese than those with lower incomes; one possible reason given was a tendency to dine out more often. However, women in the same age bracket tended to be more obese when their personal incomes were lower; this was attributed to possible cultural differences. Men and women with low education levels had a significantly higher chance of obesity with the exception of younger workers aged 18 to 34.

Workplace environments also play a large role in employee health. Jobs that are sedentary in nature can lead to excessive eating as well as a decrease in physical activity. Many Canadian jobs require much of the workforce to be in front of a computer terminal. This can lead to the tendency to snack during work hours as well as limited physical movement throughout the day, which in turn raises the risk of obesity.

With the rates of obesity having such a negative impact on the Canadian workforce, employers are being urged to help facilitate better health practices for their employees. It has been suggested that implementing health promotion programs may actually cost employers less than having to pay for sick leave, etc. This can have a direct impact on such expenses as prescription medications that are needed for those who are obese, as well lessening the risk of workplace accidents and/or injuries. As well, Canadians who have a better health status enjoy a lower premium on their health benefits. Even if a person initially must pay more due to health status, losing weight can actually entitle them to apply for a reduction in premiums. Health insurance premiums are based in part on health status; improvement in status can save potentially a large amount of money, especially in the long-term. It may also reduce the amount that is deducted from group insurance premiums should all staff improve their health.

There are many ways all Canadians can help improve their health that do not require a large financial investment, but rather more a conscious effort of daily habits. Some suggestions to make your workplace a healthier environment are:

• Talk to your co-workers as well as your employer about implementing a healthier workplace. Your employer may be willing to offer such initiatives such as partially reimbursing employees for such items as gym memberships, etc. in order to have a healthier, more productive staff.
• You can also talk to your co-workers about healthier snacks and lunches; substituting fresh fruit instead of donuts and other high-fat snacks for example.
• Organize a staff walk during the lunch break; this can help not only burn off calories, but help re-energize for the afternoon hours.
• Use the stairs instead of the elevator if you can; walk instead of drive if possible.
• Packing a lunch gives you more control over the types and portions of food you eat instead of dining out. This also tends to be a less expensive alternative than eating out. You can pack snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables, crackers, etc. for when you’re working that will satisfy the craving to eat, while not being high in fat and calories.


If exercise is just not possible during the week, plan some weekend activities that require you to be active. An improved diet as well as physical exercise gives the employee more energy as well, making them more productive. A few simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference when it comes to health and helping to combat the stresses of life.

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