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Leaders Have Larger Waists, Study Finds

Update Date: Oct 30, 2015 05:04 PM EDT

Being a leader or an authoritative figure at work might not be a good thing for one's health.

According to an Australian study, people who have power and responsibility in their place of employment tend to have bigger waistlines and higher body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement of obesity, when compared to people with the free will of using and applying their skills at their workplace.

"Many people point to 'eating too much and not moving enough' as the cause of obesity," lead author of the study, Christopher Bean, a PhD candidate in health psychology at the University of Adelaide, said in a press release. "While this might explain how weight gain often happens, it does not acknowledge things such as environmental, psychological, social or cultural factors - these are some of the important reasons that obesity happens."

For this study, the researchers collected and analyzed data on 450 adults (230 women, 220 men). The participants held blue or white-collar jobs in different fields. They were all interviewed about their work environment, particularly in regards to how much control they have over their everyday tasks and responsibilities. The researchers referred to the Job Demand-Control-Support model throughout the interviews.

The participants' height, weight and waist circumference were also recorded at a clinic.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups based on the demands of their jobs. The groups were "decision authority," which meant that the person had the responsibility to make decisions that affected their job, team and company, and "skill discretion, " which meant the person had the opportunity to use their own skills and learn new ones at work.

The team found that people in the "decision authority" group were more likely to be obese when compared to the other group.

"When looking at the wide system of factors that cause and maintain obesity, work stress is just a small part of a very large and tangled network of interactive factors," Bean said. "On the other hand, work is a fundamental part of life for many, so it is important to find innovative ways of extending our understanding of how factors at work may be implicated in the development and maintenance of obesity. It is important to challenge the status quo and explore unexpected or counter-intuitive findings with curiosity."

The study was published in the journal, Social Science & Medicine.

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