The prevalence of obesity in the Canadian workforce, especially for men, has risen during the past decade. In 2005, 15.7% of employed Canadians aged 18 to 64, or more than two million people, were obese, up from 12.5% in the mid-1990s.

Obesity becomes more than just a personal health issue when it begins to affect job performance. The odds of being absent from work were almost four times higher for obese young men aged 18 to 34 than for those with normal weight, after controlling for socioeconomic and health-related factors.

Obesity was also related to reduced work activities, more disability days, and higher rates of work injury for women aged 35 to 54.

Obesity was most prevalent among older workers aged 55 to 64, 21% of whom were obese in 2005. This held for both men and women, although the prevalence was lower among women.

Male workers aged 35 to 54 with lower personal income levels were less likely to be obese than their counterparts with high income. However, women with low personal income were more likely to be obese than high-income earners.

Low education significantly increased the odds of obesity for both men and women, except for young workers aged 18 to 34. For example, workers aged 35 to 54 with less than a high school diploma were 1.6 times more likely to be obese than workers who had completed postsecondary education.

Significant differences in age-adjusted prevalence rates of obesity were found in some occupation-related categories for men. Compared with men in white-collar jobs, a higher proportion of blue-collar workers were obese.

Men working longer hours (more than 40 per week) were also more likely to be obese than regular full-time workers who worked 30 to 40 hours per week.

Compared with regular-schedule workers, a greater proportion of shift workers, both men and women, were obese.

Obesity was also related to elevated levels of work stress. Obese workers reported higher job strain and lower support from co-workers.

The article "Obesity on the job" is now available in the February 2009 online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, Vol. 10, no. 2 (75-001-XWE, free) www.statcan.ca.