The study looked at the association between lower income workers and overweight/obesity and suggests traditional interventions are not the answer.
The study, Obesity/Overweight and the Role of Working Conditions: A Qualitative, Participatory Investigation, was carried out through a community partnership between university researchers and worker leaders from organizations representing lower income workers. It analyzes causes of overweight/obesity workers and suggests steps for employers and others to take to lessen the instances of that, and associated comorbidities.
"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese," according to the study. "Additionally, it is well established that overweight and obesity rates are disproportionately higher for lower income individuals, and in particular, lower income Black or African Americans and Latino Americans."
Obesity is a contributing factor to a variety of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes which can contribute to and/or complicate workers' comp claims. Most of the research to date focuses on the increased access to healthier lifestyles afforded by higher incomes or how sedentary jobs are a contributing factor.
"This is often not the experience of lower income workers," the study says. "These workers are more likely involved in physically demanding work, and are often too fatigued or debilitated to enjoy physical activity in their leisure time."
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the University of Connecticut teamed up with other organizations, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. They interviewed lower income workers, conducted focus groups, and held stakeholder meetings.
They identified the following themes that low-wage workers perceive as having an impact on body weight:
- Physically demanding work, which often resulted in illnesses and injuries and influenced the workers' ability to participate in physical activity outside of work. The physical fatigue from work also played a role in the quantity of food consumed at the end of the workday.
- Psychosocial stresses produced by high demands in the workplace led the workers to consume more high-calorie foods. Heavy workloads included having multiple jobs and responsibilities and scheduling.
- Time pressures from short, 15-minute breaks did not allow workers to eat during the workday. Female workers also reported time pressures from the interaction of work and family, leaving little time for physical activity and healthy eating. Instead, they relied on convenience foods.
- Food environment at work such as limited access to healthy food or little or no appropriate equipment and space to eat meals influenced workers' diets.
The researchers offer a variety of recommendations for employers, policymakers, and stakeholders. "Provide the state-mandated 30 minutes consecutively, as a single break," is one suggestion for employers, along with "support daily communication of rest and meal break times ... to reduce anxiety about hunger and to facilitate healthy meal planning."
To combat challenges created by workloads and scheduling, the authors suggest employers "determine physical workloads that are moderate enough to avoid excessive fatigue and risk of injury," "institute health and safety programs that identify and reduce or eliminate ergonomic hazards," and "involve workers in scheduling decisions for shift work and overtime to promote family balance and mental health."
Supervisors and managers should be encouraged to be supportive of employees, the study says. Also, promoting programs "that identify and eliminate bullying and sexual harassment" is recommended. Group health coverage and third-party service contractors that are sensitive to the needs of low-wage workers may help, along with establishing worker-management committees that incorporate health, safety and wellness.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
January 14, 2013
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