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Employees get chubby on the job
Scripps Howard News Service


September 12, 2005

Your job might be making you fat.

If you sit at a desk much of the day, then you're more likely to end up obese, according to a new study from Australia.

Before you dismiss this as more tripe from overseas, consider this: Australians know something about obesity. During the 1990s there was a 28 percent increase in the number of overweight people Down Under. Now, 58 percent of Aussie men and 42 percent of women are overweight.

Not surprising, perhaps, in a country where the national dish is beer. But the researchers found the increase alarming and sounded the same warning bells we've been hearing here in the United States of Unsightly Bulges: Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and many minor afflictions, such as chafed thighs and Multiple Chin Syndrome.

The Australian study, reported in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, looked at 1,579 working Australians, examining their occupations, physical activity and body mass index, which measures body fat based on height and weight.

Researchers found the average worker sat for more than three hours per day, with 25 percent of workers sitting more than six hours a day.

"Higher total daily sitting time was associated with a 68 percent increase in the odds" of being overweight, the study said.

"Time and productivity lost due to chronic diseases associated with overweight and obesity may make it financially worthwhile for employers to be more proactive in the health of their employees by promoting physical activity at work."

Now that's going too far. It's one thing to warn that sitting at our desks will make us fat, but it's quite another to alert employers to this fact, put a dollars-and-cents value to it and urge our bosses to make us exercise.

Aren't most jobs hard enough already? Do we really need our workday interrupted by sweaty managers who demand that we all lumber to our feet for a session of jumping jacks and jogging in place? Wouldn't this increase the risk of workplace homicides?

Employers "promoting physical activity at work" will need to be sneaky about it. Here are some suggestions:

Move the snack and coffee machines to the far end of the building, forcing workers to walk more. This may lead to longer coffee breaks and a temporary loss of productivity, but it'll get employees up and moving.

Ban parking near the workplace for - wink, wink - "security reasons."

Remove the wheels from desk chairs. This will force workers to rise up off their seats whenever they need to move. And the resulting scrawk of scooting chair legs will make them so crazy they'll want to get up and run away.

Order regular computer "malfunctions." This will get heart rates up and cause bursts of physical activity such as stomping and hair-pulling.

Furnish ever narrower chairs so employees will worry they're getting too fat to fit in their seats. This works for the airlines.

Finally, take a tip from those of us who work at home: Add laundry facilities to the workplace. Every 30 minutes or so, workers must jump up from theirs desks to fluff and fold. Add other household or gardening chores to keep them from spending long periods at their desks.

Sure, people may complain about these measures. They may argue that leaving their desks hampers concentration and lowers productivity.

Managers should simply reply: We're looking out for your health. This is the way things are done now. In Australia.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Boost."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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