Workload and burnout contribute to unhealthy behaviors that cause weight gain

A new study from the University of Georgia has found that feeling overworked contributes to a variety of unhealthy behaviors that can cause weight gain.

Results from the study published in the Journal of Health Psychology point to the role work stress can play in our ability to adopt the necessary strategies to maintain a healthy weight.

We have so many things coming at us every day, and we only have so much energy. When our energy gets used up, we don’t have the energy to make ideal decisions about what we eat.” Lead author Heather Padilla, faculty member and researcher in the Workplace Health Group at UGA’s College of Public Health

When work gets in the way of wellness

Despite the growing presence of workplace-based wellness and weight management programs, over two-thirds of working adults are overweight or obese.

Most worksite programs focus on things like nutrition education, access to healthy foods or access to a gym.

Job demands are rarely, if ever, incorporated into weight loss interventions.

Padilla and her colleagues began to wonder if work stresses might be depleting the mental and physical energy employees needed make changes to their diets or fit in a workout.

So, she decided to look at how workload and burnout impact a person’s nutrition and physical activity choices.

Lacking the energy to make healthy choices

The researchers recruited 1,000 men and women working in full-time jobs to answer questions about their workloads and exhaustion or burnout. They were also asked to report their eating and exercise habits.

The results of their analysis showed that employees with heavier workloads were more likely to emotionally eat, eat without stopping, and reach for fattier foods, and those who were burned out tended to do the same and exercise less.

“Anecdotally, the findings aren’t shocking,” said Padilla, but she said they do point to a greater need to understand how job demands affect issues like obesity.

“We spend so many of our waking hours at work,” she said. “These findings require us to think about how our work affects our health behaviors and self-care.”

Journal reference:

Padilla, H.M. et al. (2019) Health behavior among working adults: Workload and exhaustion are associated with nutrition and physical activity behaviors that lead to weight gain. Journal of Health Psychology.

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