Labour force status
Adults who were employed or not in the labour force were more likely to be overweight or obese (both 60%) than those who were unemployed (44%). However, more than a third of adults who were unemployed were aged 18-24 years and the prevalence of overweight and obesity is higher in older adults.
Of employed people aged 18 to 64 years, those who worked full-time were more likely to be overweight or obese (63%) than those who worked part-time (51%), which may indicate a relationship between the hours people work and their likelihood of being overweight or obese.
Physical activity at work
In many workplaces, people often sit for long periods during the day. Recent Australian research has shown the importance of avoiding prolonged uninterrupted periods of sitting time, as it may undo the benefits of regular moderate-vigorous physical activity(footnote 1) . Activities as minimal as standing rather than sitting and increasing the number of breaks have been shown to result in substantial increases in total daily energy expenditure and resistance to fat gain(footnote 2) .
In 2007-08, a higher proportion of men aged 18 to 64 years who spent most of their time sitting in their jobs were overweight or obese (72%), compared with men who mostly stood (59%), walked (65%) and undertook heavy labour or physically demanding work (64%). The story was different for women, however. Almost two-thirds of women who were mostly undertaking heavy labour or physically demanding work were overweight or obese, while rates did not differ between women who mostly walked, sat or stood in their jobs which were all around 50%.
As well as contributing to longer sitting times, long working hours may affect people's weight by limiting the time they have available for activities such as exercise and preparing healthy meals. For instance, people may substitute a healthy home-cooked meal with takeaway or pre-prepared processed foods that are generally high in fat and sugars because it is late and they are tired when they arrive home from work.
There was a relationship between the amount of time spent at work and the likelihood of men being overweight or obese. In general, as the hours usually worked each week increased, so too did the prevalence of overweight and obesity in men. In 2007-08, 55% of men aged 18-64 years who worked 15 hours or less in a week were overweight or obese compared with 75% of men who worked 49 hours or more. Men who worked 15 hours or less per week were less likely to be sedentary or exercise at low levels than those who worked 49 hours or more. For women, there was no relationship between the amount of time spent at work and the likelihood of being overweight or obese.
Employed people may spend a large proportion of their day in the workplace, and work-related factors, such as their job, position or the type of work they do may be associated with weight gain.
Of employed people aged 18-64 years, the prevalence of overweight and obesity was highest for those who worked as machinery operators and drivers (74%). These jobs typically involve many hours of sitting and, as discussed above, the sedentary nature of the work may undo the benefits of any regular physical activity.
In contrast, people that worked as sales workers were the least likely to be overweight or obese (53%) (Graph 4.6). People in these jobs were more likely to be mostly standing and walking during the day.
4.6 Proportion of people overweight or obese(a)(b),
1 Healy G, Wijndaele K, Dunstan D, Shaw J, Salmon J, Zimmet P, et al. Objectively measured sedentary time, physical activity, and metabolic risk: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab). Diabetes Care, 2008; 31:369-71. Available from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/2/369.full.pdf+html
2 Healy G, Dunstan D, Salmon J, Cerin E, Shaw J, Zimmet P, et al. Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care, 2008; 31:666-6. Available from http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/4/661.full.pdf+html <back