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Weight gain linked to stress in the workplace

And women in high demand jobs are particularly affected.

This is according to a new study from Gothenburg University assessing the effects of stress in the workplace and obesity.

The effects of stress in the workplace

Summary:

Although this research only looked at the effects of stress in the workplace, it supports the findings of many other stress and weight gain studies. Stress has been widely linked to weight gain (and sometimes weight loss).

It includes worrying news for women in stressful jobs. Because this study links higher levels of workplace stress, specifically in highly demanding jobs, with increased weight gain for female workers.

We were able to see that high job demands played a part in women’s weight gain, while for men there was no association between high demands and weight gain,” says Sofia Klingberg, the lead author of the study.

Key Findings:

The study looked at 2 measures of workplace stress.

  1. How much control workers have in their jobs (Latitude)
  2. How demanding their job is

Finding #1

Both men and women with a low degree of control in their jobs were more likely to experience major weight gain.

To measure the degree of latitude, participants were asked about:

  • How much control they have over their duties
  • Learning opportunities
  • The need for advanced or creative skills

Finding #2

Women were more likely to experience major weight gain when working in highly job demands for extended periods. Interestingly, men did not show the same weight gains.

To measure how demanding a job was, participants were asked about:

  • The pace of work & the time allowed to complete tasks
  • How clear is thier role. Do they frequently encounter contradictory demands?
  • Other psychological pressures

Major weight gain was measured as 10% weight gain or more and the study adjusted for factors like diet quality.

Observations

Over a 20-year period, just over half of women in highly demanding jobs experienced ‘major’ weight gain. Notably, major weight gain was around 20 percent higher than for women subject to low job demands.

  • The authors note that higher academic achievement had no influence upon the results
  • This was also true of diet quality (although it is noted that diet quality was self-reported, so may include some inaccuracies)
  • Some factors used to measure workplace stress were also self-reported, creating further potential inaccuracies
  • Finally, the study does not attempt to identify why women were more likely to gain weight in highly demanding jobs.

This study adds to an increasing number of studies assessing the effects of stress in the workplace.  However, very few have looked at weight gain being one of the effects of workplace stress.

Workplace stress is a public health concern and has been linked to mental health issues, depression & suicide. It is also linked to significant business costs.

Stress has also been linked to obesity and health problems such as diabetes. As such, this study helps to underline the important of the workplace when addressing two growing concerns for modern society, stress and obesity.

Citation

Klingberg, S., Mehlig, K., Johansson, I. et al. Int Arch Occup Environ Health (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-018-1392-6

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Study: Occupational stress is associated with major long-term weight gain in a Swedish population-based cohort

Published: 2018

3,872 men & women were examined (Body Mass Index) & interviewed on 3 occasions over a 20-year period. They were asked about job strain, diet & lifestyle. This was part of a wider study of health and population in Northern Sweden.

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