The growing obesity problem continues to raise concerns in the workplace. According to a 2015 CareerBuilder’s survey, 57% of U.S. workers indicated they feel overweight, compared to 55% in 2014. Perhaps more importantly, 42% of workers say they’ve gained weight in their present job, while only 16% say they’ve lost weight. 22% say the weight gain was more than 10 pounds.

Snacking on unhealthy food while workingIt comes as no surprise that professional and business services employees may be at the greatest risk with 51% reporting gaining weight at their current job. Employees who spend their days sitting behind a desk or working in an office often forgo basic physical activity and endure regular stress. Middle age workers are also more likely to be at risk. Specifically, 45% of middle age workers gained weight at their current jobs, compared to 38% of workers under the age of 35.

What is causing the gain weight? Is it the lack of exercise? The answer may be tied to stress levels. When workers gave reasons for what they felt caused them to gain weight, 37% stated, “eating because of stress” and 43% stated they were “too tired from work to exercise”. Interestingly, CareerBuilder’s survey found a correlation between stress levels and weight gain with 70% of workers with extremely high stress levels reported to be overweight.

Too much stress causes the human body to produce more of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is an appetite trigger that also cues the body to store fat cells and produce less testosterone, which results in less muscle mass, according to Shawn M. Talbott, a nutritional biochemist, author, and consultant.

Corporate wellness initiatives focus on promoting healthy habits at work to prevent weight gain. However, it is equally important for companies to take a holistic approach to reducing weight gain by promoting work-life balance, including flexibility around schedules to reduce stress levels at work.

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