Study Links Obesity to Low Endurance, Fatigue in Workplace

First Posted: Jul 24, 2014 06:35 AM EDT

Obese working people have significantly low endurance levels and experience excess fatigue in workplace, a new study reveals.

Based on the finding, researchers suggest that the U.S. workplaces need to develop innovative strategies to prevent fatigue among obese employees. The study was conducted at the Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, where researchers examined endurance levels of 32 individuals who took part in three different tasks that involved a range of upper extremity demands.

The participants were divided into four categories that included non-obese young, obese young, non-obese older, and obese older. Their tasks involved range of upper extremity demands that included hand grip, intermittent shoulder elevation and a simulated assemble operation. Every tasks involved periods of work and rest and included pacing similar to those experienced by workers in manufacturing settings.

"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.  During those tasks, individuals in the obese group also exhibited greater declines in task performance, though this difference was only evident among females," said Lora A. Cavuoto, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, in Buffalo, New York.

Since the 1970s, the rate of obesity has more than doubled in adults and children, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.  More than two-thirds of the U.S. adults are obese or overweight.

In the current study, researchers not just looked at how obesity affected physical demands and capacity of an individual, but also looked at the interactive effect of obesity and age on endurance times. Studies conducted earlier have highlighted how age and obesity trigger reduced mobility, especially during walking and performing lower extremity tasks.

"However, we found no evidence of an interactive effect of obesity and age on endurance times, which is contrary to previous findings," said Maury A. Nussbaum, PhD, a professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering at Virginia Tech, who also worked on the study.

This study provides insight into the ergonomic impact of obesity and age, which is essential for describing the relation between personal factors and the risk of workplace injury.

The finding is published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

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