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Stress at work tied to unhealthy lifestyles: studies

Lowell, MA – Overworked and stressed-out employees may turn to unhealthy habits to find comfort or cope, and they may lack the time and resources for exercise and cooking meals, according to two studies from the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

In one study – published in The Scientific World Journal – researchers found a link between stressful working conditions and employees who smoke and are overweight and sedentary, a press release from the university states. Among 1,506 health care workers at 18 nursing homes, almost 90 percent reporting experiencing job stress, more than half had been assaulted by a resident or visitor, and about 25 percent said they felt helpless at work. Smoking was nearly twice as high among nursing aides exposed to a minimum of three of the following five stressors:

  • Low decision control
  • Low supervisor support
  • Working a second job
  • Physically demanding work
  • Recent assault

Work health programs could be more effective if they helped lower stress, the study states. In the other study – published in the January issue of the journal Health Promotion Practice – researchers found that workers in high-demand jobs who had little control lacked time for lunch breaks, resulting in them eating quickly, eating too much or having no time to eat.

Researchers examined eight focus groups of workers in low-paying jobs in various industries and found the following themes among the participants:

  • Physically demanding work
  • Psychosocial work stressors, such as poor treatment and low social support
  • Time pressure
  • Food environment at work, such as kitchen equipment and available food choices

Non-traditional shifts and strict schedules kept workers from following public health guidance for healthy eating and exercise, according to the study abstract.

“Training, improved job design and organizational changes” can address work stressors, the release states. Correcting work issues can improve worker health, the study concludes.

“Our research is consistent with other studies that show a clear correlation between work and so-called ‘lifestyle’ health behavior,” Suzanne Nobrega, study co-author and CPH-NEW outreach director, said in the release. “Employees who are stressed and overloaded may not have the opportunity to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

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