Study: Obese Workers Have Shorter Endurance Times, Need Longer Rest Breaks

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File photo of an obese person. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

File photo of an obese person. (credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (CBS DC) – A new study has found that workers who are obese may have significantly shorter endurance times when it comes to performing tasks in the workplace.

Researchers at Virginia Tech examined 32 individuals who completed three distinct tasks which involved a range of upper extremity demands like hand grip, intermittent shoulder elevation and simulated assembly operation. While completing the tasks, the individuals 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,” Lora A. Cavuoto, an assistant professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, stated in a press release. “During those tasks, individuals in the obese group also exhibited greater declines in task performance, though the difference was only evident among females.”

Researchers also examined the interactive effect of obesity and age on endurance times during this study.

“Previous studies have indicated that both age and obesity lead to decreased mobility, particularly when it comes to walking and performing lower extremity tasks,” Maury A. Nussbaum, a professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering at Virginia Tech and a researcher apart of the study, said in the press release. “However, we found no evidence of an interactive effect of obesity and age on endurance times, which is contrary to previous findings.”

Cavuoto and Nussbaum hope that results from this study will help to contribute to a better understanding of how obesity and age impacts humans. They also hope their research helps to further establish a link between personal factors and the risk of workplace injury.

“Workers who are obese may need longer rest breaks to return to their initial state of muscle function. Based on the increased fatigue found among workers who are obese, workplace designers may need to consider adding fixtures and supports to minimize the amount of time that body mass segments need to be supported,” Cavuoto stated in a the press release. “We believe our results will help to develop more inclusive ergonomic guidelines.”

The study was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH).

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