Virginia Postrel makes an observation that I’ve made many times myself:

Take health care, a fast-growing industry. While the doctors may be slim, in my admittedly unscientific experience, the typical support person–whether a nurse, a technician, or a paper processor–is seriously overweight. And it’s not as though people who work in hospitals and doctor’s offices don’t know being obese is dangerous.


Her partial explanation for the growing level of obesity in society is certainly plausible:

A leading candidate is the changing nature of work, with more people sitting in chairs all day. When my father started work as an industrial engineer in the late 1950s, he was told that the typical factory worker walked six miles in the course of a day’s work; walk that much and you’re unlikely to get fat. Work today is more pleasant, and less taxing, but instead of getting paid to exercise, you have to use leisure time to burn calories.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    Her partial explanation for the growing level of obesity in society is certainly plausible:

    During a more esoteric discussion with a customer of mine we determined I could sit at a computer pushing a mouse and make enough money to buy a day’s worth of calories in about 4 minutes.

    I doubt this has ever been true in the history of man.

    Compare that to back when we hunted our food.

  2. C.J. says:

    I spent a year hanging around healthcare workers (when I was a union organizer). I thought the level of obesity was the same as the general population. The thing that surprised me was the number of people who smoked – it varies depending on where you are in the country, but at any point in time you can go to the designated smoking area outside a hospital and find someone who works there puffing away. That’s slightly less disturbing than the patient attached to five iv’s who is also out there w/ a cancer stick.

  3. That is an amazing thought. Work efficiency is higher than ever before, but (of course) it comes with a price.

    However, it is much more enjoyable to spend leisure time (something the efficiency gives in greater quantity) burning calories via an activity of our choosing (like basketball or soccer).

  4. James Joyner says:


    I don’t think Postrel is saying nurses are fatter than anyone else–just that it’s obviously not simply a matter of educating people on proper nutrition and exercise, since they presumably have that information and are fat anyway.

  5. James Joyner says:


    No doubt! Of the problems a society can have, the superabundance of tasty, fattening food and a life of too much leisure surely rank low on the list.

  6. Mark Hasty says:

    I put the coffee pot as far away from me as possible at work. That’s not real far, but still, in one day, I walk about 1.5 miles just to get coffee. (I checked this with a pedometer.)

  7. Paul says:

    in one day, I walk about 1.5 miles just to get coffee

    …and about 2.3 miles to the head.

  8. McGehee says:

    Hypercaffeinated jitters also burn calories.