Overweight and obesity are progressively associated with lower work ability in the general working population: cross-sectional study among 10,000 adults

  • Lars L. Andersen
  • Mikel Izquierdo
  • Emil Sundstrup
Original Article



Obesity is associated with many diseases and functional limitations. Workplaces are not always designed to accommodate this challenge. This study investigated the association between body mass index (BMI) and work ability in the general working population.


Currently employed wage earners (N = 10,427) from the 2010 round of the Danish Work Environment Cohort Study (DWECS) replied to questions about work and health. Cumulative logistic regression analyses controlling for age, gender, physical and psychosocial work factors, lifestyle, and chronic diseases modeled the associations between BMI and work ability.


BMIs above the normal range were progressively associated with lower work ability in relation to the physical demands of the job. Odds ratios for having lower work ability were 1.11 (95% CI 1.01–1.22), 1.17 (95% CI 1.01–1.34), 1.43 (95% CI 1.09–1.88), 1.69 (95% CI 1.10–2.62) for overweight and obesity classes I, II, and III, respectively. In subgroup analyses, the associations between BMI and work ability were more pronounced among individuals with mainly sedentary work than among those with physically active work. BMI was not associated with work ability in relation to the mental demands of the work.


BMIs above the normal range are progressively associated with lower work ability in relation to the physical demands of the job, especially among individuals with mainly sedentary work. Ergonomic research on how to optimally design workstations for workers with obesity are needed.


Overweight Obesity Underweight Lifestyle disease Work ability index Adults BMI 



The authors are grateful to colleagues Elsa Bach and Ebbe Villadsen at NRCWE for valuable discussions and assistance with access to data from the Danish Work Environment Cohort Study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this paper.


The Danish Work Environment Cohort Study (DWECS) was funded by the Danish Government as part of the surveillance of the Danish working environment. No external funding was obtained for the specific analyses or writing of the present article. No commercial associations, current and over the past 5 years, that might pose a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lars L. Andersen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mikel Izquierdo
    • 3
  • Emil Sundstrup
    • 1
  1. 1.National Research Centre for the Working EnvironmentCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Physical Activity and Human Performance Group, SMI, Department of Health Science and TechnologyAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Health SciencesPublic University of NavarraTudelaSpain

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