Work Environment Might Contribute To Increased Overweight and Obesity

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Obesity is a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary challenge that requires a collaborative effort. It has emerged as a global challenge. Globally, overweight and obesity cost an estimated US$2 trillion per year, and 68 percent of all deaths are caused by non communicable diseases (NCDs), of which three of the four most common are diet related namely cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes.

As early as 2000, the WHO was already indicating that “obesity prevalence is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate in both developed and developing countries. It is still relatively uncommon in African and Asian countries, but is more prevalent in urban than in rural populations. In economically advanced regions, prevalence rates may be as high as in industrialized countries” (WHO, 2000).

There is wide variance in estimates of the economic cost of obesity since different studies include different costs.

Direct costs typically include all or some of costs related to health service delivery to treat obesity related health problems such as the cost of hospitalization, medical consultations in outpatient clinics and the consumption of medications.

Indirect costs typically include all or some of the costs associated with lost productivity when individuals must temporarily (absenteeism) or permanently leave work for health reasons such as disability or pre-mature mortality.

McKinsey Global Institute estimates the global economic impact of obesity as roughly US$2 trillion per year or equivalent to 2.8 percent of global GDP. This includes the cost of lost economic productivity through the loss of productive years, direct costs to health care systems, and the investment required to mitigate the impact of obesity.

The work environment can contribute to obesity. In a study of 208 male workers in Japan, obesity was associated with psychological tension and anxiety, much of which was derived from high demands and poor decision latitude at work.

Obesity is not an occupational disease, but its global epidemic poses significant current challenges to occupational health professionals.

Obesity and work productivity will almost certainly demand increasing commitments from occupational health programmes in coming years as obesity adversely affects workplace costs by decreasing worker productivity and increasing the need for support services and disability management.

The work environment might contribute to increased overweight and obesity, but it may also provide opportunities for addressing the problem.

It is necessary to determine whether current work environments actually encourage obesity. An inconsistent body of findings has raised that possibility, suggesting that overweight and obesity are related to job stress, shift work and long work hours.

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