Use of various obesity measurement and classification methods in occupational safety and health research: a systematic review of the literature

BMC Obes. 2018 Nov 1;5:28. doi: 10.1186/s40608-018-0205-5. eCollection 2018.


Background: This study systematically examined obesity research in occupational safety and health regarding the use of various obesity measurement and classification methods.

Methods: A systematic search of the PubMed database on English language publications from 2000 to 2015 using related keywords and search of citations resulted in selection of 126 studies. They were categorized into two groups based on their main research question: 1) general physical or mental work-related functioning; and 2) task or body part specific functioning.

Results: Regardless of the study group, body mass index (BMI) was the most frequently used measure. Over 63% of the studies relied solely on BMI to define obesity. In only 22% of the studies, body fat was directly measured by methods such as dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. Abdominal obesity was defined using waist circumference in recent years, and waist-hip ratio in earlier years. Inconsistent cut-offs have also been used across studies investigating similar topics.

Conclusions: Few authors acknowledged the limitations of using indirect obesity measures. This is in part due to the limited understanding of some occupational safety and health researchers regarding the complex issues surrounding obesity classification and also the mixed recommendations over the past 2-3 decades and across populations. Efforts need to be made to promote appropriate obesity measurement and reporting in this field.

Keywords: Body mass index; Ergonomics; Obesity; Occupational safety and health; Overweight.