Obesity Linked to Low Endurance, Increased Fatigue in the Workplace

A new study investigated the ergonomic effects of obesity-related functional performance impairment.

A new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) found that workers who are obese may have significantly shorter endurance times when performing workplace tasks, compared with their non-obese counterparts.

The study, conducted at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., examined the endurance of 32 individuals who completed three distinct tasks that involved a range of upper extremity demands – hand grip, intermittent shoulder elevation, and a simulated assembly operation. Each task involved periods of work and rest and included pacing demands similar to those experienced by workers in manufacturing settings. The individual were divided into four categories: non-obese young, obese young, non-obese older, and obese older.

"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 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.

The logic behind this comes from the idea that obesity is associated with physiological changes at the muscular level, including a decrease in blood flow, thereby limiting the supply of oxygen and energy sources. When performing sustained contractions, these physiological changes may lead to a faster onset of muscle fatigue. The prevalence of obesity has doubled over the past three decades, and this increase has been associated with more health care costs, higher rates of workplace injury, and a greater number of lost workdays.

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