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J Occup Environ Hyg. 2014;11(9):583-90. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2014.887848.

The influences of obesity and age on functional performance during intermittent upper extremity tasks.

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a Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering , University at Buffalo, SUNY , Buffalo , New York.


In this study, the main and interactive effects of obesity and age on functional performance were assessed during intermittent exertions involving the upper extremity. The prevalence of obesity has doubled over the past 30 years and this increase is associated with higher health care costs, rates of workplace injury, and lost workdays. Obesity and aging can modify job demands and affect worker capacity in terms of muscular and psychomotor function. However, there is a lack of empirical studies quantifying the work-relevant (or ergonomic) impacts related to task demands, capacities, and their potential imbalance. Eight obese and eight non-obese participants from each of two age groups (18-25 and 50-65 years) completed three endurance tasks involving fixed levels of task demands: hand grip, shoulder flexion, and a simulated assembly task using the upper extremity. Measures of functional performance including endurance, discomfort, motor control, and task performance were recorded for each of the task conditions. Endurance times were ∼60% longer for the non-obese group, and older participants had longer endurance times; however there was no evidence of interactive effects of obesity and age. Obesity also impaired functional performance, as indicated by higher rates of strength loss, increases in discomfort, and declines in task performance. These observed impairments may reflect underlying physiological differences among individuals who are obese, but that are independent of age. Obesity-related impairments may have implications for the design of work duration and demand level to prevent fatigue development for workers who are obese.


aging; endurance; intermittent exertions; motor control; obesity; shoulder fatigue

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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