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May 27, 2021

Is your job making you fat?

Whenever you watch a movie set in the Great Depression – The Grapes of Wrath, Cinderella Man, whatever – you always get the same feeling when you see the few people fortunate enough to get a day’s work breaking their backs unloading a container ship or sitting at a sewing machine for 14 hours straight.

Istockphoto_4508257-measuring-the-beerbelly “Man, we don’t do anything  anymore!”

Indeed, for anyone to suggest Canadians work, physically speaking, more than they did decades ago would be Steven Tyler-level crazy. That’s a testament to innovation – for better or worse, advanced machinery have taken over much of business’ need for back-breaking labour – but have such workplace modernizations directly led to us getting fatter and fatter?

A new study out of the U.S. traced historical obesity rates and the percentage of jobs that require physical exertion over the past five decades, and it found an almost direct relationship between Americans getting fatter and doing less physical work at their jobs.

Sure, such a connection seems obvious. But considering the survey, performed by the research journal PLOS One, accounts for no diet or fitness club-like exercise patterns, the correlation is no less remarkable.

According to the study, less than 20 per cent of modern U.S. jobs require “at least moderate (physical) exertion,” a drop from nearly half of all private industry gigs 50 years ago.

During that time, a period that includes a national obesity rate that’s doubled over the past 30 years, American body weight gain among 40- to 50-year-olds since 1960 “closely matched” the relative drop in workplace exertion during that time. On average, workers lose 100 calories less at work each day than they did 50 years earlier.

You need not look past modern business headlines for reasons for this shift. Service jobs, which Bloomberg notes are much less physically strenuous than, say, manufacturing and agriculture jobs, now account for about 43 per cent of U.S. work, compared to just 20 per cent in the early 1960s. Similarly, while North America continues to outsource many of its more labour-intensive positions off the continent, more and more jobs here are no longer based in physical exertion – like, say, contributing to a finance blog using a keyboard and computer mouse, activating no muscles north of the elbow.

Have you noticed your job’s made you fat? Since you took that gig in an office or wherever, have you packed on a few or made changes in your day-to-day diet to compensate for burning less calories at work?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money

*Follow Jason on Twitter here.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...