Obesity and Fatigue in the Workplace

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • A universal expectation among employers is that employees give a legitimate effort. It is a fair expectation and should be implicitly understood by both parties when a person is hired. However, reality can scramble the legitimacy of that agreement pretty quickly. There are legitimate situations where either party can be exercising maximum effort, but not getting maximum results. Such may be the case among obese employees. The effort may not produce the needed result, and we are then in a mire regarding the definition of a fair day's work.


    The Constraints of Obesity in the Workplace

    Results from a recent study done at Virginia Tech show that obese people have significantly lower levels of endurance and are subject to excess fatigue while in the workplace. 

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    Thirty-two subjects were tested in three seperate tasks that involved upper extremity demands. They were divided into four categories of non-obese young, obese young, non-obese elder, and obese elder. The assigned tasks involved hand grip, intermittent shoulder elevation, and a simulated operation for assembly. The pace of the exercises was similar to that experienced in a manufacturing setting, and there were periods of work interspaced with periods of rest. 


    It was found that obese people had 40 percent shorter endurance times with broadest differences in hand grip and simulated assembly. Females in the obese group also had greater declines in task performance.    


    The Link Between Weight and Muscle Efficiency

    The Virginia Tech study shed light on the link that exists between a person's weight and the efficiency of muscles. Obesity can cause rapid muscle fatigue and stunt the ability to perform tasks for longer periods of time. Obesity can be responsible for physiological changes at the muscular level, such as a decrease in blood flow that limits the supply of oxygen. 


    Performing sustained contractions leads to a faster onset of muscle fatigue due to these physiological changes, and it is surmised that obese workers may need longer periods of rest before returning to their initial state of muscle functioning. It has been suggested that those who design workplace environments may need to design structures that support a larger body mass comfortably.  


    The study also explored the cumulative effect of obesity and age on endurance times, whereas earlier studies contend that age and obesity can reduce mobility, particularly when walking or engaging in lower extremity demands. No evidence was discovered to support these prior claims. 


    The study also is useful for defining the relationship between personal factors and the risk for injury in the workplace.   


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Published On: August 08, 2014