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Study links ‘precarious’ work to higher BMI


Photo: Edwin Tan/iStockphoto

Chicago — Low wages, insecure employment contracts, irregular hours and lack of union representation may play a role in worker weight problems, researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago say.

Those four “unfavorable facets of employment” are often part of what the researchers call “precarious work.” To understand the impact of precarious work on people’s body mass index, they analyzed 1996-2016 data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth adult cohort, which involved nearly 7,300 participants with an average age of 44.

Seven different precarious employment dimensions – including material rewards, working time arrangements, employment stability and collective organization – were examined to determine a job’s impact. The researchers then came up with a “precarious employment score.”

For the average participant, BMI rose in relation to the observed increases in precarious employment. A one-point increase in precarious employment score equated to a 2.18-point increase in BMI. Indicators of precarious employment were highest among Latino and Black women who had a high school education or less.

Even small changes in BMI can affect chronic health risks, the researchers note in a press release, adding that with the rise in gig economy work, greater attention to the health impacts of these jobs – including policies and workplace interventions – is needed.

The study was published online in the journal Obesity.

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