Is the 9 to 5 making us gain weight?

Most people don’t need additional reasons to dislike their job. On a sunny Friday in the middle of the summer, the majority of folks would rather be outside doing something fun rather than being glued to their computer at a cubicle.

But just in case you were looking for another reason to loathe the 9-5, I’ve got the study for you!

You may recall a previous post in which I discussed the results of a small study that found the following:

a) During work days people sat for 110 minutes more than on their leisure days (597 min/day vs. 484 min/day).

b) Conversely, work days were associated with less standing and walking in contrast to leisure days (a difference of 76 min/day).

c) Based on calculations, the authors approximated that during leisure days people expend an additional 59 calories through walking than on word days (586 vs 527 calories). This may not seem like a lot, but the lack of expending 300kcals every week can really add up over the year (15 600 kcals/year or ~5 lbs of fat/year).

A new study just came out in the International Journal of Obesity that looks at the influence of our jobs on changes to our health over time. Specifically the authors followed a total of 9276 Australian women aged 45–50 years for 2 years, and assessed the effect of employment and hours worked on weight change during that period.

NERD ALERT: How was the study done? (Skip ahead to next paragraph if your eyes glaze over during discussion of statistical models)

The authors uses quantile regression to estimate the impact of labour status on weight change, controlling for potentially confounding factors in the relationship between labour status and weight change. Factors controlled for in the statistical models included: age, ethnic background, marital status, region of residence, highest education level attained, household income, menopause, smoking, as well as occupation groups (manager; professional; trades person; service; and manual labour) for the analyses of work hours and weight change. Labour status was either represented by employment status (for the total sample) or work hours (for the employed sample). To be frank, this is one of those papers where the statistician clearly went a bit nuts and over-analyzed the data making interpretation nearly impossible.

What did the authors find?

1. On average, all employment groups showed an increase in weight over the 2 years, which in itself is interesting.

2. There was no difference in physical activity levels based on employment status (employed, unemployed, or not in the work force).

3.  Employed women had a significantly greater increase in weight than unemployed women and women not in the workforce (1.6% vs. 0.98% vs. 1.2%, respectively).

3b. After controlling for self-reported health, women out of the workforce still gained significantly less weight than employed women. However, unemployed and employed women did not differ in changes in weight status once self-reported health was considered.

4. Women who spent more hours at work experienced more weight gain relative to women who worked part-time, regardless of self-reported health status.

So what should you do?

While quitting your job may not be a viable option, being cognizant enough to increase your normal amount of activity at work is likely a good idea. You can refer to our Top 10 Ways to Become Active for some ideas.

Have a great weekend!


Reference: Au N, Hauck K, Hollingsworth B. Employment, work hours and weight gain among middle-aged women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Jun 19. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.92. [Epub ahead of print]

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9 Responses to Is the 9 to 5 making us gain weight?

  1. There are a number of things about modern work life that add roadblocks to health I think. For me, commuting was a particularly huge factor.

    When I transitioned from commuting to telecommuting (working from home using technology), I had an initially very stressful couple of months where I was working constantly.

    After a while though once I started getting better at managing my time at home, my stress level went way down and was able to get a lot more activity in during the day, and invest time into preparing more healthy meals. It became a lot easier to manage my weight and my health without the hours of commute time.

    For me the biggest factor that had been hurting me was all that time fighting traffic in the car every day. I had no time or energy left to do anything else, and getting up before dawn to get in a little activity was hurting my sleep because it was very difficult to get to sleep early enough to compensate.

    • Great point, Todd. As someone who has been working remotely for over 2 years now, I completely agree. I think for those that work in-house, living either within walking/biking distance to their work or near reliable and quick public transit is key. As we’ve been using our car less and less over the years, I’ve noticed I’ve become very driving-averse. Especially since we now live in a big city, I really HATE driving and do it so rarely that I may get rid of the car altogether. I can’t imagine losing 2 hrs every day of my life to bumper to bumper traffic. This should be a topic for another post…

  2. April says:

    I think, for myself, when I have leisure time I eat when I’m hungry and only as much as I really want. When at work, designated lunch schedules often make me feel obligated to eat despite not being hungry. Then when you remember you may not have time to grab a snack later, it can leave you wanting to finish a whole meal regardless of how hungry you are or aren’t. Factor in where we eat lunch at work–cafeterias or fast food and that’s a recipe for disaster!

    These days I make sure I eat breakfast, and have something small to snack on at my desk and pack my lunch. I’ve noticed I eat less for lunch and dinner when I do this! Additionally, I have extra time on my lunch break from not standing in line that I can use for a brisk walk.

  3. Joey Salts says:

    I dunno man, glued to the computer doesnt sound bad lol.

  4. Sonny says:

    I had recently joined a 10,000 step-a-day program that the wellness department of our company put on, just to measure the number of steps I take in a typical day, as I have a job where I generally sit in front of a computer. I’m not involved in any extracurricular activities, so I basically come home from work, sleep at a normal time, and repeat.

    10,000 steps a day was the goal, but doing nothing else but just work, the total number of steps I took fluctuated between the high 3000’s and low 4000’s. On days that I ran in the morning (three miles on a treadmill) before work, my number of steps came out to around 11,000 steps a day.

    The difference is eye-opening and one of the reasons why I’m putting more effort into running more often.

  5. I know the times I’ve had to go from more active jobs to desk jobs, it’s been accompanied by weight gain. At this point, my best option career-wise involves sitting in front of a computer, so I deal with it. The weight gain leveled out at a certain point. Like April, being on this schedule disrupts when and how I normally eat. I do keep a collection of healthy snacks on hand. I also find myself needing a nap in the afternoons when I have to be working, and sometimes it leads to eating for the sake of staying awake.

    In a perfect world, I would move around more. I do make it a point to get up and walk around about every hour, and I keep a piece of 4″ PVC pipe under my desk as a foot rest so I can roll it back and forth and keep my legs moving, at least.

    Sonny – I had no luck whatsoever with pedometers! I gave up the day I clocked 100+ steps for driving my stick shift the 4 miles across town. Glad it works for you. I’ve gone to tracking my minutes spent in activity, which works great for me.

  6. Todd says:

    It’s a real struggle just trying to move around periodically during the day when you have a desk job and people expect you to be sitting there. The last few years I tried to exploit electronic devices to make people more comfortable that they can reach me without me being tied to a desk and I began making it a point to get up and walk around frequently and just moving more made a huge difference in the way I felt and seemed to help me regulate my appetite better.

    Currently I work from home and I have made it a habit to take a walk every couple of hours. When my energy levels are higher, I add a bodyweight workout, maybe 2-3 times a week. When my energy levels are really high I throw in a couple of sprints. So far, this combination of frequent very low level activity and infrequent higher intensity seems to make me feel healthier and lets me move more intuitively rather than having to count steps and so on. Keeping track of steps never worked for me either, it was just a distraction from the intrinsic reward I got from moving around.

    I just move based on how I feel at that time. It tool a while to be able to trust my energy levels, and I went through the same sort of process with my intake, cutting way down on glycemic load and learning to trust my appetite rather than scheduling constant meals and snacks. So far it has helped me tune in better to my own body and my work has been more productive as well, because I’m clearer headed and less stressed after a little activity.

    Just my experience so far.

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