A socioecological framework for research on work and obesity in diverse urban transit operators based on gender, race, and ethnicity

Bong Kyoo Choi, Peter Schnall, Marnie Dobson, Haiou Yang, Dean Baker, Young Ju Seo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Urban transit (bus and rail) operators, totaling nearly 700,000 persons, are one of the heaviest occupational groups in the United States (US). Little is known about occupational risk factors for weight gain and obesity and their interrelationship with health-related behaviors, particularly among female minority (African Americans and Hispanics) transit operators who are at greater risk for obesity. As a step towards developing successful obesity interventions among urban transit operators, this paper aims to present a new socioecological framework for studying working conditions, chronic strain, health-related behaviors, weight gain/obesity, and obesity disparity in diverse urban transit operators based on gender, race, and ethnicity. Our framework is a synthesis of several different theories and disciplines: the resource-work load model (work stress), occupational ergonomics, the theory of intersectionality, and worksite health promotion. The framework was developed utilizing an extensive literature review, results from our on-going research on obesity, input from focus groups conducted with Los Angeles transit operators as well as interviews and meetings with transit operator stakeholders (management, unions, and worksite transit wellness program), and ride-along observations. Our hypotheses highlighted in the framework (see Fig. 1) are that adverse working conditions, largely characterized as a combination of high demands and low resources, will increase the risk for weight gain/obesity among transit operators directly through chronic strain and hypothalamic dysfunction (hyper-and hypo-activations), and indirectly through health-related behaviors and injuries/chronic severe pain. We also hypothesize that the observed increase in adiposity among female minority operators is due to their greater exposure to adverse occupational and non-occupational conditions that reflect their intersecting social identities of lower social class and being a minority woman in the US. Our proposed framework could greatly facilitate future transit worksite obesity studies by clarifying the complex and important roles of adverse working conditions in the etiology of weight gain/obesity and obesity disparity among transit operators and other working populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15
JournalAnnals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 17 May 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Disparities
  • Health behaviors
  • Injuries
  • Los Angeles
  • Minority
  • Weight gain
  • Work stress


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