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HR Magazine, March 2004 - Down with Convenience

By Robert J. Grossman  3/1/2004
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HR Magazine, March 2004

Vol 49, No. 3

Alan Hedge, professor with the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University in Ithaca, blames the obesity epidemic, in part, on an overdose of convenience.

“It’s a vicious cycle; work is increasingly sedentary—telecommuting, video conferencing, e-mail—so there’s no need to move. The less you move, the weaker and bigger you become. Then, in the name of progress, we create new products that make you move even less. There’s too much of a good thing. A little inconvenience might improve performance.”

“We don’t even flush toilets any more,” says Tim Church, medical director of the Cooper Institute in Dallas. “The longest walk of the day for people at our weight management clinic will be the walk from the car to the clinic.”

Hedge suggests that extra-curricular activities that help burn calories are helpful, but the best way to ensure more calories are expended is to re-engineer them back into actual work assignments—a form of reverse ergonomics.

“We’ve been experimenting with sit-stand workstations. If you stand up while you work, you burn 20 percent more calories,” he says. “There are software programs, demonstrated to improve productivity that alert workers when it’s time to take a stretch break, walk around or work standing.

“If you estimate the need to cut 300 calories a day to keep weight stable, you should easily be able to burn an extra 100 by redesigning jobs and changing the physical trappings to encourage people to use stairways and walk to their cars.”

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