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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Texas A&M Examines Impact of Obesity and Stress on Worker Fatigue and Injury

Job stress comes in many different forms and affects your body in various ways, including your waistline. In case you needed more good reasons to aim to seek a harmonious work environment, a recent study indicates that if you do not, you are more susceptible to fatigue and injury.

Mehta Friday Letter

By performing tasks that exert the hand/arm muscles, which are representative of workplace activities like grasping, holding, or typing, Dr. Ranjana Mehta, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, examined the interplay of obesity and stress in adults 20-65 years of age. Research findings were published this month in the International Journal of Obesity.

Both non-obese and obese adults performed hand/arm endurance tests using a digital grip dynamometer in the absence and presence of additional stress of solving arithmetic problems at the same time. In the article “Impacts of obesity and stress on neuromuscular fatigue development and associated heart rate variability, ” Dr. Mehta described research results indicating that under stress volunteers fatigued sooner than when they only concentrated on the exercise. More importantly, the stress-related physical capacity decline was augmented with obesity. These findings were accompanied with greater perception of exertions and poorer cardiovascular responses.

According to Dr. Mehta, current risk factors for fatigue and musculoskeletal injuries are primarily based on normal weight individuals, and it remains unclear how stress and fatigue affects overweight or obese individuals, groups that have higher injury rates and health care costs.

“Over two-thirds of the working population is now overweight or obese, and job demands are increasing, thus it is critical that the influence of stress and obesity on fatigue and the subsequent likelihood of injury are determined to account for the changing workforce,” said Dr. Mehta.

Research results indicate that workers with a higher body mass index are more susceptible to fatigue, particularly in stressful work environments that can increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries as well as cardiovascular disorders in this population.

Funded by the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, a National Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health (NIOSH) Educational and Research Center, this study provides the foundation for the development of revised ergonomic guidelines for changing workforce characteristics and workplace conditions.