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Obesity and the Workplace

June 29, 2011

A recent article in The New York Times cites the workplace as a new source in the rise of obesity.  This is not terribly surprising considering that the vast majority of new jobs in this country over the past 50 years have moved away from agriculture/manufacturing and have been focused on “services”…things like finance, law, computers/IT, consulting, administration, etc.  Even seemingly active jobs, like being a healthcare professional (i.e. doctor, dietitian, etc.), require significant amounts of time to sit and fill out mandatory documentation about residents/patients…which leaves very little time to be on your feet and actually see and talkto the patients.

Based on textbook references, most people spend about an additional 15-30 calories an hour standing vs. sitting.  And don’t even get started on walking…walking an hour burns about four times the amount of calories than sitting.  So when we sit at work for eight hours, we don’t burn about 120-240 calories per day compared to someone standing.  At 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year (250 days), that’s 30,000-60,000 calories, which equals 8.5-17 pounds a year!  Pretty amazing that the average adult still only manages to gain one pound per year (note that one pound a year adds up…).

So what do we do about this…especially at the workplace where we typically need to sit to do our job and few of us have access to those fancy treadmill desks.  The answer is move where/when you can.  Park further away in the parking lot.  Get out of the subway a stop early. Walk during breaks.  Take the stairs.  Use the gym if your facility has one.  Do 10 squats, 10 pushups and 10 jumping jacks every hour.  Stretch every 20-30 minutes…or at the very least drink lots of water so you can stand up to go to the bathroom a bunch throughout the day (hydrated and active!).   The possibilities are there, you need to just choose to do them!

And get your employer involved!  A recent review study from Harvard researchers (Baicker, Cutler and Song) found that that medical costs fall for employers by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and that absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent.    We may not be able to change the activity level of the jobs we have, but we can still change our personal activity levels and our employers’ ability to make the workplace more conducive to movement.

Please add any ideas you have to increase your physical activity at the workplace!

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