Workplace obesity on the rise: StatsCan

Obesity increases the risk of work absences and disability

The prevalence of obesity in the Canadian workforce has risen during the past decade, according to Statistics Canada.

In 2005, 15.7 per cent of employed Canadians aged 18 to 64, or more than two million people, were obese, up from 12.5 per cent in the mid-1990s, according to "Obesity on the job," which was based on data from the Canadian Community Health Survey.

Obesity becomes more than just a personal health issue when it begins to affect job performance. The odds of being absent from work were almost four times higher for obese young men aged 18 to 34 than for those with normal weight, after controlling for socio-economic and health-related factors.

Obesity was also related to reduced work activities, more disability days, and higher rates of work injury for women aged 35 to 54.

Obesity was most prevalent among older workers aged 55 to 64, 21 per cent of whom were obese in 2005, up from 17 per cent in 1994/1995. This held for both men and women, although the prevalence was lower among women.

Male workers aged 35 to 54 with lower personal income levels were less likely to be obese than their counterparts with high income. However, the reverse is true for women, where low personal income women were more likely to be obese.

Low education significantly increased the odds of obesity for both men and women, except for young workers aged 18 to 34. For example, workers aged 35 to 54 with less than a high school diploma were 1.6 times more likely to be obese than workers who had completed postsecondary education.

The type of work people do can also affect the likelihood an individual will be obese, with a higher proportion of male blue-collar workers being obese than white-collar workers (19.2 per cent compared to 16 per cent).

Men working longer hours (more than 40 per week) were also more likely to be obese than regular full-time workers who worked 30 to 40 hours per week (19.2 per cent compared to 16 per cent).

Compared with regular-schedule workers, a greater proportion of shift workers, both men and women, were obese (19.8 per cent compared to 16.8 per cent for men and 18.5 per cent compared to 14.9 per cent for women).

Obesity was also related to elevated levels of work stress. Obese workers reported higher job strain and lower support from co-workers.

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