Obesity has a significant impact on health and well-being; it may also burden a person’s workplace abilities. A new study claims that obese workers are less productive, more likely to get injured somehow, and need longer rest breaks than employees of normal weight.
The study was completed at Virginia Tech and the University of Buffalo and examined how people of different weights accomplished work tasks. Obese people had about 40 percent shorter endurance times, the researchers found.
Of the 32 people studied, several were young and non-obese, some young and obese, and others either old and obese or old and non-obese. The participants were required to complete three tasks: hand gripping, elevating their shoulders, and a stimulated assembly operation. Every task involved both work and rest times. Obese women performed the worst, though overall, those in the overweight group struggled the most. “Our findings indicated that on average, approximately 40 percent shorter endurance times were found in the obese group, with the largest differences in the hand grip and simulated assembly tasks,” Lora Cavuoto, an assistant professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Buffalo, said in the press release.
This doesn’t mean companies will start getting rid of obese workers; instead, they “will make adjustments to the extent that [the workers] have a skill which is necessary, useful and in demand,” Michael Berman, a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. who also struggled with obesity, told NPR. America has been feeling the weight of the obesity epidemic for years; one in three Americans are obese, and researchers estimate that the impact on businesses is up to $1,000 to $6,000 in costs for each overweight employee. That’s because companies have to provide specially-designed, bigger chairs that can cost over $1,000. They also have to consider buying stronger toilets and larger desk spaces. Not to mention the loss of productivity.
“Workers who are obese may need longer rest breaks to return to their initial state of muscle function,” Cavuoto said. “Based on the increased fatigue found among workers who are obese, workplace designers may need to consider adding fixtures and supports to minimize the amount of time that body mass segments need to be supported. We believe our results will help to develop more inclusive ergonomic guidelines.”
But companies should be dealing with this problem not by buying bigger desks — but instead by providing free access to gyms and wellness programs, and encouraging their employees to live healthier.