We can now count obesity among the harmful side effects of the lousy economy and stressed-out working conditions. A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center focused on more than 2,700 employees of a large manufacturing facility in upstate New York – an employer that, like many others throughout the country, has experienced layoffs and its fair share of recessionary fallout.
The study revealed that chronic job stress, combined with lack of physical exercise, is a big contributor to weight gain. Alarmingly so. In the case of this particular study, up to 75 percent of the employees were overweight or obese. (Most of the study participants were middle-aged, white, married, highly educated (college degree or more), relatively well-paid (earning more than $60,000 a year), with an average of almost 22 years at the company.)
Stress, whether it’s coming from home, work, the daily commute and anything in between, hurts our health directly and indirectly. Directly, it affects the neuroendocrine system and can lead to the unfortunate storage of abdominal fat. Indirectly, it is linked to bad habits like scarfing down on double-fudge brownies and nachos, or plopping down on a cushy chair instead of hitting the gym.
For the New York workers, a typical evening after a day of stressful meetings and sitting at their computers was “vegging out” in front of the TV for two or more hours. During times of staff cuts, the vending machines were quickly cleared of the snacks highest in fat and calories. And certain workers claimed they didn’t take the time to eat well or exercise at lunch because they were afraid to leave their desks for too long.
"In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs," says Diana Fernandez, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the URMC Department of Community and Preventive Medicine. "It is important to focus on strengthening wellness programs to provide good nutrition, ways to deal with job demands, and more opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty." (ScienceDaily)
The concern, of course, is that this upstate New York facility reflects the health of most American workplaces.
So what can you do to discourage your employees from “stress eating” on the job, de-prioritizing their fitness goals and feeling burned out?
Wellness programs that support healthy eating (and back it up with better snack alternatives at the cafeteria, food carts and vending machines) are a good start, as are walking programs, discounted gym memberships and onsite, stress-reduction workshops. Good health isn’t something you shut off at the start of another hectic workday. Healthier lifestyles should be encouraged at work, for the benefit of both the employer and the employee.
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