Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – While the pros and cons of remote work continue to be debated, one outcome should be immediately addressed by employers, according to researchers. The impact of lifestyle changes during the pandemic has had a decidedly negative impact on some of the most important health metrics.
“The 1-year incidence of overweight, hypertension, hyperglycemia, and liver damage increased by 15% to 65% during the COVID-19 pandemic,” states a new study. “Increased?weight gain, related to decreased physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, was significantly associated with increased incidence of health problems.”
The researchers looked at data from thousands of Japanese workers in reaching their conclusions. Their findings were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The pandemic has had myriad effects on the workplace. While remote work has eased stress for many people, it has created feelings of isolation and loneliness for others. In some cases, organizations have seen increased productivity while others say the loss of in-person connections has led to reduced creativity.
Researchers in Japan looked into the potential physical effects of the pandemic. Previous online surveys have found that people living in the metropolitan area of Tokyo have become more sedentary. One in five people reported their health was declining during the pandemic.
The study authors decided to take a deeper dive to determine whether and to what extent employees’ health had changed. In addition to survey questions, they also looked at results of health examinations.
“The results of this study will demonstrate the secondary harms of the COVID-19 pandemic in office workers and underline the necessity for prompt intervention to avoid more serious consequences,” the authors explained.
Japanese workplaces are legally mandated to provide employees with annual health examinations. These include anthropometric measurements, laboratory tests, and a self-administered questionnaire.
The researchers used data from April 2018 through March 2021 on tens of thousands of workers aged 15 to 64. Specifically, they looked at the incidents of:
- Overweight, defined as a body mass index of at least 25
- Hypertension, defined as a blood pressure reading of at least 140/90
- Hypercholesterolemia, defined as a low density lipoprotein cholesterol measured by direct assay of at least 140 mg/dL (3.6 mmol/L)
- Hyperglycemia defined as a blood glucose of at least 110 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or a hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) of at least 6.0%.13
- Liver disease, defined as an aspartate aminotransferase (AST) of at least 51 U/L, an alanine aminotransferase (ALT) of at least 51 U/L, or γ glutamyl transferase (γGT) of at least 101 U/L.1
Additionally, they asked questions about lifestyle habits, including snacking, ‘Do you eat snacks after dinner more than 3 times a week?’; Heavy drinking, ‘How often do you drink alcohol (everyday, sometimes, rarely)?; Physical inactivity, ‘Are you in a habit of doing exercise to sweat lightly for over 30 minutes a time, 2 times weekly, for over a year?’ and, ‘In your daily life do you walk or do any equivalent amount of physical activity more than one hour a day?’; and Sleep deprivation, ‘Do you sleep well and enough?’
“The incidence of overweight, hypertension, hyperglycemia, and liver damage increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic in both sexes,” the researchers wrote. “Increased?weight gain, related to decrease physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, was significantly associated with increased incidence of health problems.”
However, there was improvement in one area of health. The researchers found a decrease in the incidence of hypercholesterolemia.
“Plasma LDL-C level is influenced by dietary intake of fatty acids and cholesterol. Frequent eating out can cause excessive dietary fat intake,” they said.?“Most Japanese people refrain from eating out and drinking parties during the COVID-19 pandemic by the request from the Japanese Government. The decreased incidence of hypercholesterolemia may be caused by change in people’s eating-out behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Push for Interventions
The deterioration of the four health metrics can pose problems for employers, in terms of increased healthcare costs and reduced productivity, among other things. The researchers said organizations should consider interventions, especially weight management programs.
“In the analysis of the effect of weight change on incidence of health problems greater?weight gain?had greater odds ratios for the incidence of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, hyperglycemia, and liver damage,” according to the study. “The odds ratios greater than 1 were observed in those who had gained more than 2 kg (approximately 4.4 pounds).”
Weight gain has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular risk factors. The findings of increased snacking and heavy drinking were “significantly associated” with weight gain among males included in the study.
The findings can help organizations plan health promotion programs during the pandemic, especially since remote work is expected to continue – at least to some extent.
“People have become more interested in managing their own health since they had to live daily under threat of COVID-19 infection,” the writers said. “Now is the best time to appeal them to improve their lifestyle.”