‘Precarious’ Work Associated with Higher BMI

By Alana Smart / April 4, 2023 / Blog ,

‘Precarious’ Work Associated with Higher BMI

A new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago adds to the growing body of research that suggests that unstable employment negatively impacts workers’ health outcomes. Low wages, insecure employment contracts, irregular hours, and lack of union representation were considered as types of ‘precarious’ work associated with higher BMI.

In order to understand the impact on workers’ BMI, researchers at UIC examined 20 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth adult cohort. The cohort involved nearly 7,300 participants with an average participant age of 44.

Initially, the researchers looked at seven precarious employment dimensions including material rewards, working time arrangements, training, employment stability and collective organization. After identifying 13 self-reported survey indicators of precarious employment, researchers were able to determine a “precarious employment score”. They then used models to compare these indicators with BMI, often considered as an indicator of obesity.

For the average participant, BMI increased by 0.68 units in relation to increases in precarious employment. A one-point increase in precarious employment score equated to a 2.18-point increase in BMI. Additionally, they also found that indicators of precarious employment were highest among Latino and Black women with a high school education or less. Unfortunately, non-Hispanic Black men, Hispanic women, and non-Hispanic Black women with lower education are disproportionately burdened by precarious employment, the statistics suggest.

The study points out that over the past two decades, the prevalence of obesity has increased by 40% in the United States. “Persistent disparities in obesity among women, people of color, and adults with lower income represent a critical challenge for public health.” Obesity is growing concern due to the burden related to obesity-related chronic illnesses.

“Over the last few decades, there has been an increase in the number of Americans engaging in precarious work—we see this with the rise of the ‘gig’ economy or the number of people working for ride-share companies, for example,” said study author Vanessa Oddo, an epidemiologist whose research focuses on the social and economic determinants of nutrition-related health.

“With millions of Americans now engaging in precarious work, we need to pay closer attention to the health impacts of this type of employment.”

The study was published online in the journal Obesity.

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