Workplace Stress = Obesity

A new study argues that the combination of chronic workplace stress & a lack of physical activity is turning the typical American office worker into that guy (see above)

Lead author Diana Fernandez, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the URMC Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, said her study is among many that associate high job pressure with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and weight gain.

Not good.

office space


  • They found that 72 to 75 percent of the employees were overweight or obese.
  • Most of the study volunteers 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.
  • And not too surprisingly, more than 65 percent of the employees said they watched two or more hours of television per day.
  • Among those who reported watching two to three hours, 77 percent were more likely to be overweight or obese, and those who watched four or more hours of TV a day increased their odds of obesity by 150 percent, compared to people who watched less than two hours of daily TV.

“We are not sure why TV is so closely associated with being overweight in our sample group of people,” Fernandez said. “Other studies have shown that adults tend to eat more fatty foods while watching TV. But this requires more investigation.”

During intake interviews, numerous test subjects confided to researchers that they were “stress eating” and burned out from “doing the work of five people.”

Stressful working conditions are known to impact health behaviors directly and indirectly.

Directly, stress can affect the neuroendocrine system, resulting in abdominal fat, for example, or it may cause a decrease in sex hormones, which often leads to weight gain. Indirectly, stress is linked to the consumptions of too many fatty or sugary foods and inactivity….often while watching 4 straight hours of must-see tv.

And it’s not good for the company either…

The reserchers found that:

  • Obese employees had 20% higher doctor visits than normal weight employees, and
  • 26% higher emergency department visits
  • Compared to normal weight employees, presenteeism rates were 10% and 12% higher for overweight and obese employees

Taken together, compared to normal weight employees, obese and overweight workers were estimated to cost employers $644 and $201 more per employee per year, respectively.


Even if companies don’t give a damn about the health & happiness of their workers, they should care about their bottom line.

To that end, not only should employers educate their employees about making healthier lifestyle options, they should take steps to ensure that talking becomes doing.

Things like:

  • Free group fitness classes on site
  • Healthy food options offered for free
  • Stress reducing mindfulness-meditation classes offered daily
  • Walking trails
  • Group events involving physical activity

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