Public health, Obesity and Ergonomics 

The Department of Health have assessed what the levels of obesity in England may be in 2010 if current trends in prevalence continue. They suggest that  by 2050 60% of men and 50% of women could be clinically obese. Despite this trend, it is a topic that has, to date, received little attention from ergonomists.  In the following example,   we have focused on the potential  impact of obesity in the work context of the modern office. 

Changes related to obesity

Examples of Ergonomics concern

Physical factors include increased body mass and concomitant anthropometric  changes.


Physiological factors include  probable change in fitness

Current ergonomics standards for equipment and environments may be inadequate. Current data no longer valid for design purposes. Current equipment may be inadequate or subject to failure.

Poor work organisation may encourage sedentary work throughout the whole day. This may exacerbate other physiological disorders associated with obesity. 

Work-rest scheduling for obese workers may need to be adjusted to allow sufficient worker recovery

Psychological factors include the stress related to public/colleagues perception of obesity (including harassment and obesity). 

Motivation and well-being at work for obese workforces requires co-ordination with public health agenda, particularly in regard of education and support

Office teams may feel  they need to ‘carry’ and ‘protect’  member of team who may be more vulnerable

General understanding of teamwork and sharing of work load is poor and even less knowledge is available regarding work design and  obesity issues.

 The Organisation  may not have appropriate level of  knowledge, and the skills to assess needs

 Development of appropriate needs assessment methods and training advice to be embedded in organisation. Need to develop social and business cases. Management training to address obesity

Legal and regulatory rules may show that the existing guidance is not applicable or suitable.

Need to generate new data on appropriate norms and ranges. Need to validate new guidance.

Buckle, P (2009) Ergonomics and public health In Contemporary Ergonomics Ed Bust, P Publ. Taylor and Francis, pp 33-38 ISBN 13 9780415 804332