Is the Workplace Causing Weight Gain?

May 26, 2011  |  

(New York Times) — Looking beyond poor eating habits and a couch-potato lifestyle, a group of researchers has found a new culprit in the obesity epidemic: the American workplace.  A sweeping review of shifts in the labor force since 1960 suggests that a sizable portion of the national weight gain can be explained by declining physical activity during the workday. Jobs requiring moderate physical activity, which accounted for 50 percent of the labor market in 1960, have plummeted to just 20 percent.  The remaining 80 percent of jobs, the researchers report, are sedentary or require only light activity. The shift translates to an average decline of 120 to 140 calories a day in physical activity, closely matching the nation’s steady weight gain over the past five decades, according to the report, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.  Today, an estimated one in three Americans are obese. Researchers caution that workplace physical activity most likely accounts for only one piece of the obesity puzzle, and that diet, lifestyle and genetics all play important roles.  But the new emphasis on declining workplace activity also represents a major shift in thinking, and it suggests that health care professionals and others on the front lines against obesity, who for years have focused primarily on eating habits and physical activity at home and during leisure time, have missed a key contributor to America’s weight problem. The findings also put pressure on employers to step up workplace heath initiatives and pay more attention to physical activity at work.

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