Precarious work associated with high BMI

Photo: Dan Gold on Unsplash

“Precarious work”—employment with low pay, irregular hours, insecure contracts and no union representation—may contribute to higher body mass index and increased risk of chronic disease, according to a study by AHS nutrition researchers.

The study led by Vanessa Oddo, assistant professor of kinesiology and nutrition, adds to a growing body of evidence that precarious work may be related to poor health outcomes.

“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 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 researchers analyzed 20 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth adult cohort (1996–2016). The average age of the participants was 44.

They found that indicators of precarious employment were highest among Latino and Black women with lower education. A 1-point increase in precarious employment was associated with a 2.18-point increase in BMI.

“These modest changes in BMI may have important implications at the population level, given that small changes in weight affect chronic disease risk,” the researchers wrote in the study, published in the journal Obesity.

“Policies and workplace interventions to improve employment quality warrant consideration to protect American workers and mitigate the growing burden of obesity-related chronic diseases in the United States.”

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute on Aging and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Co-authors are Castiel Chen Zhuang, Jerome A. Dugan, Anjum Hajat, Trevor Peckham and Jessica C. Jones-Smith, University of Washington, and Sarah B. Andrea, Oregon Health and Science University.

This article has been edited for length and clarity by Sonya Booth.