ISER at Westminster: Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology host briefing on new research

ISER researchers recently presented new work looking into employment and health at a meeting hosted by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).

The research, by Dr Amanda Hughes and Professor Meena Kumari followed the health and work circumstances of over 10,000 work-age adults in the UK’s largest household panel study, Understanding Society, interviewed annually between 2009 and 2013. The research compared Body Mass Index (BMI) at the end of the study period between people who were currently unemployed, people who had recently been unemployed, and people who had not recently been unemployed.

The results will be of significant interest to policy makers and health practitioners looking at the national trend towards obesity, but also shed new insight on the established link between long term unemployment and an increased risk of chronic illness or dying. The research suggests being underweight could play a previously overlooked role.

Key findings

• Jobseekers were more likely to be underweight than the never-unemployed
• Jobseekers were less likely to be overweight than the never-unemployed
• Non-smoking jobseekers were more, but smoking jobseekers less likely to be obese
• Longer-term jobseekers, unemployed men, and the unemployed from less affluent backgrounds were most at risk of being underweight

Dr Amanda Hughes said:

“There are real health risks in being underweight or obese, and this may help explain the high rates of chronic disease and mortality among jobseekers. The results were surprising because it is often assumed that long-term unemployed people are heavier than people in work, for example because it is harder to eat healthily on a very restricted income. Our results suggest that, while there is more obesity among non-smoking jobseekers, unemployed people are also at substantially increased risk of being medically underweight. This research will be important to policy makers because for both obesity and underweight we identify particular groups – non-smokers for obesity, men and those from poorer backgrounds for underweight – for whom the risk is especially stark.”

Professor Tarani Chandola, from the University of Manchester, also presented new work due to be published soon, which also uses data from Understanding Society to look at the links between poor quality jobs and ill health.


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