Low Obesity Rates in Foodservice Workers

If any work environment promotes obesity, you might think it would be foodservice and hospitality.  Not so. Abraham Pizam, dean of the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, took a close look at the obesity rates for foodservice workers and found they were surprisingly low. His perspective is published in the March issue of the International Journal of Hospitality Management.

Pizam examined data from the National Health Interview Survey and found that men and women working in foodservice held the eighth and 19th lowest rankings respectively for obesity out of 41 occupations examined.

Occupations with the Highest Obesity Rates

Rank Men Women
1 Motor vehicle operators Motor vehicle operators
2 Police and firefighters Protective service employees
3 Other transportation workers Material moving equipment operators
4 Material moving equipment operators Cleaning & building service employees

No doubt, working in foodservice can can create risks for obesity. The recent story about Chef Jesse Schenker in the New York Times paints a very clear picture. And it also recounts how he came to terms with it.

Even with relatively low obesity rates for foodservice employees, Pizam estimates a cost of $8.7 billion per year to the foodservice industry and a substantially higher toll in terms of human suffering and death attributable to the disease. Calling for workplace wellness initiatives to reduce the burden of obesity, Pizam shines a light on the fact that employers and the work environment they create has a lot to do with the health of employees.

As we’ve previously noted, some employers are eager to impose financial penalties on employees with obesity, rationalizing it as an incentive to lose weight. Rather than impose penalties on employees for their body weight, employers would do well to assess the health of the work environment they provide. Stark differences in occupational risks for obesity suggest that employers who put their people in jobs that cause obesity should find ways to reduce the hazard.

Click here to read the Pizam editorial, click here to read the original study of obesity rates in different occupations, and click here to read the experiences of Jesse Schenker, a young chef in New York’s West Village.

Chef Michael Shwartz image by Ali / Wikimedia

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