A new study has established a relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the kind of sector of work among urban Indians. The research, published in the journal Economics and Human Biology, suggests a positive correlation between a high BMI – an indicator of obesity – and labour market activity. Put simply, the study could mean that your desk job is a risk to your health.
Indians in white-collar jobs, with low levels of activity in their workday, have a higher average BMI than those in blue-collar occupations. Hence it suggests that engineers, technicians, mathematicians, scientists and teachers, for example, had higher BMIs than farm workers, fisherpeople and housekeepers.
BMI is measured by dividing an individual’s body mass by the square of body height and is expressed in units of kg/m2. A healthy individual will have a BMI in the range of 18.5 and 24.9. An individual is considered underweight if BMI is below this range, overweight if BMI is between 25 and 30 kg/m2 and obese if the index surpasses 30 kg/m2, according to the standards prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“[India]…has the third highest overweight population in the world. Twenty percent of Indian adults and eleven percent of adolescents can be categorised as obese”
Women in white-collar work have about 1.01 kg/m2 higher BMI than women in blue-collar work. For working men, the comparable estimate is approximately 1.18 kg/m2.
The study shows suggestive evidence that increases in BMI for women is driven by a decline in energy expenditure, while both a decrease in energy expenditure and an increase in energy intake are important in explaining BMI dynamics for men.
These are worrisome findings for a country that has the third highest overweight population in the world. Twenty percent of Indian adults and eleven percent of adolescents can be categorised as obese, according to a research paper published in September 2014.
“Unhealthy levels of BMI are directly related to chronic health risks such as developing hypertension and diabetes. These noncommunicable diseases…can have substantial impacts on household budgets”
“Lower physical activity level at work is possibly one of the factors of rising BMI, given the backdrop that, on an average India has witnessed a decline in energy intake as shown by studies such as Deaton and Drèze, 2009 and Ramachandran, 2014,” Archana Dang, co-author of the study, told IndiaSpend.
Unhealthy levels of BMI are directly related to chronic health risks such as developing hypertension and diabetes. These noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) can have substantial impacts on household budgets, according to the study. As both are chronic conditions requiring lifelong management, they could increase household expenditures on healthcare (for example, having to purchase insulin to manage diabetes). Adding to the risks is the fact that Asians are prone to pre-existing conditions of central obesity, or the excess accumulation of fat in the abdominal area, and adiposity (excessive obesity), resulting from unhealthy lifestyles.
“Local governments can be key players in creating an environment which is more conducive to physical activities through their land-use policies”
“WHO re-defined cut-offs for Asians at 23 because they appear to be at risk for non-communicable diseases at lower levels of BMI than other populations as they have a higher percentage of body fat than, for example, European populations of the same age, sex, and BMI,” Dang said.
The study has recommended campaigns to increase awareness about the benefits of an active daily routine, such as a short walk in one’s commute.
Local governments can be key players in creating an environment which is more conducive to physical activities through their land-use policies, the study suggested. For example, builders can be mandated to provide parks and recreational facilities in new developments.
The study can be accessed here.