workplace wellness

Workplace Wellness, Fitness, and the Changing Nature of Work

Yesterday we asked what role the nature of work play in designing a well-run workplace wellness program?

This question is part of a study on the “Fitness of the US Workforce,” published in the Annual Review of Public Health. Our first post covered why workforce fitness matters.

Today we address the question of how fit the US Workforce actually is.

As the author, Nicolaas P. Pronk of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, Harvard University, writes about three areas: Obesity, Physical Activity, and Cardiorespiratory Fitness.

Pronk concludes: “To characterize the fitness profile of the US workforce, this author finds it reasonable to conclude that fitness levels are relatively low and appear to be declining. An approximate doubling of obesity rates over the past several decades has been noted. Since 1960, studies have reported a sustained reduction in overall occupational energy expenditure, and this reduction explains a major portion of the average increase in body weight over the same time period. The US workforce may be classified as being “fair” to “poor” in terms of cardiorespiratory fitness (8), leaving many workers in a fitness category that is below-average and, for some specific occupations, allowing fewer than 40% to meet minimum standards for job performance.”

This fitness reality becomes even more important as one considers the changing nature of work.

The piece states: “The contemporary workplace is oriented more toward service than toward manufacturing or goods production. This shift has been noted in trend analyses of occupational physical activity using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Research conducted along a parallel path has identified sedentary behavior in general, and prolonged sitting time specifically, as an emerging public and population health threat with specific relevance to the workplace.”

One outcome from this changing nature of work becomes significant when considering workplace wellness program design: Work requires less energy — and, as a result, fewer calories — than it did previously.

Writes Pronk: “From 1960 to 2010, when comparing service occupations with goods-producing occupations and agricultural occupations, the prevalence of service occupations has steadily increased from ∼50% to more than 80% (22). During this same time period, the latter two types of occupations have declined by as much as 50%. The energy expenditure associated with service-providing jobs is about half of that associated with farm and goods-producing jobs: The caloric expenditures of service jobs and agricultural and goods-producing jobs are estimated to be 1.5–2.0 METs and 3.0–4.0 METs, respectively. This decline has produced a fundamental shift in the energy expenditure associated with work over the past five decades.”