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Study Finds Retired Blue-Collar Workers Have Higher BMI Than Others

May 17, 2011
by Michael Greenwood

Laborers and other workers in traditionally blue-collar jobs have a “significantly” higher body mass index after retirement than their peers who worked in management and other executive positions, a study by the Yale School of Public Health has found.

A research team led by Ralitza Gueorguieva, Ph.D., a research scientist in Biostatistics, compared body mass index (BMI) patterns for workers in four broad occupational groups: professional, sales and clerical, the service industry and laborers.

They found that retired white-collar workers have no significant change in their BMI after retirement, while the BMI of their blue-collar peers increased significantly post retirement. The study appeared in the International Journal of Public Health.

“Our findings may be useful for employment-based medical professionals and family physicians who can convey information regarding the health risks of weight gain during the retirement transition to individuals,” said Gueorguieva. “The result of intervening prior to retirement may be to delay or reduce the onset of obesity-related chronic diseases.”

Obesity, especially among older adults, is associated with a wide range of chronic conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. The findings suggest that adults at retirement age should be targeted for obesity prevention.

The authors said that the difference in BMI across occupations may be due to several factors. Blue-collars workers tend to be more physically active and the cessation of regular work after retirement could lead to weight gains. White-collar workers, meanwhile, generally do not face physical demands in the workplace, but education and socioeconomic status are likely to inform their post-retirement lifestyle choices.

The researchers used data from the U.S, Health and Retirement Survey and traced the BMI of nearly 2,100 workers across a range of occupations.

Obesity in the United States is a major public health issue. Approximately 60 percent of elderly people are classified as either obese or overweight and the medical costs associated with treating them is estimated to be more than 20 percent greater than for their peers in other weight groups.

Future research is needed to determine the mechanisms behind these differences at retirement, said Jody Sindelar, Ph.D., head of the division of Health Policy and Administration and a co-author of the paper. For example, how do exercise and eating habits vary by occupation after retirement.

Other authors on the paper include Ran Wu, of the Yale School of Medicine, and William T. Gallo of City University of New York.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on June 27, 2012