Lack of decision-making ability is one of the job characteristics associated with obesity, according to a new report. F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012 is the ninth edition of the report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The report has some sobering statistics about the obesity epidemic, which contributes to workplace injuries and illnesses and can increase workers' comp costs. Based on current obesity trends, it projects:
- Every state will see 44 percent more of obese adults and in 13 states the rate will exceed 60 percent by 2030.
- The number of new cases of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension, and arthritis could increase tenfold between 2010 and 2020 and double again by 2030.
The good news is that a 5 percent reduction in average adult body mass index would save billions of dollars in health care-related spending, including workers' comp. By integrating the protection of worker health and safety with evidence-based health promotion, employers can help prevent worker injury and illness and advance the health and well-being of workers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
"One of these opportunities is to fight the obesity epidemic in the workplace by addressing job characteristics that are associated with obesity," says NIOSH in its latest edition of TWH in Action! As one of the articles explains, "the physical and psychosocial work environment has a significant impact on health behaviors, including those that are risk factors for obesity."
Laura Punnett, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the co-director for the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace, explains how employers can take steps to directly impact obesity and other health issues of their workers.
"A great deal of scientific evidence now shows that the physical and psychosocial work environment ... has a large impact on health behaviors," Punnett writes. "For example, work scheduling -- e.g., night shifts, overtime -- is an important risk factor in eating and exercise patterns and obesity. Few opportunities for decision-making on the job are strongly associated with obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, and lack of aerobic exercise during leisure time."
Contrary to what employers may think, they can do something about the working conditions of their employees. "Improved work organization can provide time, space, and material and social support for improvements in dietary choices, smoking cessation, participation in exercise classes, and improved work-family balance," Punnett explains. "On the other hand, ignoring the underlying causes of stress by failing to address psychosocial stressors at work may undermine the very health goals that are targeted by a workplace health promotion program."
By using occupational ergonomics, employers can provide a framework to address the workplace preconditions of job stress, she writes. Job design to increase decision latitude, optimized work scheduling, and improved quality of supervision are among the steps that can help. Also, engaging workers in identifying their health priorities and the environmental factors that affect their health can help.
"Since lack of decision-making opportunities at work is itself an important risk factor for health as well as for health behaviors, it is critical to implement workplace programs from top down, and the bottom up to increase workers' role in decision-making," she writes.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
December 6, 2012
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