Spotlight on article published in Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health

IBI Spotlights call attention to important health and productivity findings from peer-reviewed work by external researchers. Unless otherwise stated, the authors are not affiliated with IBI, nor was the research executed on IBI’s behalf. IBI members are encouraged to obtain the original articles from the copyright holder.

What is the Issue?

As the workforce ages and individuals consider remaining in the workforce longer before leaving paid employment it becomes even more important to understand what factors contribute to loss of paid employment. Poor health is significantly related to increasing age and employment leaves. This study seeks to understand how overweight and obesity along with lack of physical activity are related to exit from paid employment.

What are the findings/solutions?

Obesity, but not overweight, is a risk factor for exit from paid employment through work disability. The authors recommend that further studies on the role of lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity should include longitudinal data over longer follow-up periods beyond the typical 24-month maximum study period. Nevertheless, lack of physical activity was found to be a risk factor for work disability and unemployment.

Journal Citation

Robroek, SJW, Reeuwijk, KG, Hillier, FC, Bambra, CL, van Rijn, RM, and Burdorf, A. (2013) The Contribution of Overweight, Obesity and Lack of Physical Activity to Exit from Paid Employment: A Meta-Analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health Vol. 39(3):233-40.


To conduct a meta-analysis of the association between obesity, overweight, physical activity and a variety of work-related outcomes including exit from paid employment through disability pension, unemployment and early retirement. Explain the potential relationship between features of the study population and research designs on the strength of any associations measured.


The meta-analysis required that articles of interest meet the following criteria: 1) describe a relationship between overweight, obesity, physical activity and the work outcomes of interest, 2) incorporate a longitudinal design, 3) provide information on the strength of the quantitative relationships between the elements of study and 4) written in English. 28 articles were selected for inclusion in the meta-analysis based on these criteria.


Obesity predicts future work disabilities (measured as disability pension), but is not a risk factor for unemployment or early retirement. The lack of physical activity does not predict early retirement but does predict increased risk of disability pension and unemployment.


Healthy lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity and body weight both contribute to important work outcomes, notably work disability. Efforts focused on improving physical activity in and outside of the workplace among employees could support a more healthy, productive and sustainable workforce.