Study Finds Obesity Increases Risk of Injury on the Job

HAVING a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese range increases the risk of traumatic workplace injury, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Injury Research and Policy. The study was "Advance Access" published on May 7 by the American Journal of Epidemiology.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on an adult's height and weight. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 is normal; 25 to 29.9 is overweight and over 30 is obese.

"Clearly, limited resources for workplace injury prevention and control should target the most prominent and modifiable risk factors, but we cannot neglect the fact that our study and other recently published studies support an association between BMI and the risk, distribution and prevalence of workplace injury," said Keshia M. Pollack, PhD, MPH, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Health Policy and Management.

The researchers used medical and injury surveillance data on hourly workers employed in eight plants of the same aluminum manufacturer to determine whether increased BMI was a risk factor for workplace injury. The plants were scattered across the United States. BMI was calculated using National Institutes of Health criteria. Employees were grouped into five categories: underweight, normal, overweight, obesity levels I and II and obesity level III.

Of the 7,690 workers included in the study, 29 percent were injured at least once between Jan. 2, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2004. Approximately 85 percent of the injured workers were classified as overweight or obese. More than 28 percent of injuries occurred among employees classified as overweight, 30 percent in the obese I and II category and almost 34 percent in the obese III category.

The severely obese group who had a BMI of greater than 40 also had the most injuries to the hand/wrist/finger (22 percent) when compared to the same injuries in the other weight categories. Almost 10 percent of all injuries in the obese III group were to the leg/knee, compared to 7 percent of workers classified as overweight, which was the next highest injury rate.

Center for Injury Research and Policy: http://www.jhsph.edu/injurycenter/index.html

Keshia M. Pollack: http://faculty.jhsph.edu/Default.cfm?faculty_id=1814

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