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Working Ourselves Sick

Dr. Diana Fernandez, an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, spent two years studying what she calls a “typical American workplace” and its health effects on employees. Her findings were stark: pressures at work are linked to cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, and self-reported poor health, she noted in a recent study of one U.S. company, and chronic job stress is strongly associated with being overweight or obese. What some would call the company’s most important assets—its workers—were in very poor shape.

These employees didn’t lack the resources to eat well and exercise, her findings suggest; most were middle-aged, married, and highly educated, making more than $60,000 a year. They’d worked at the company an average of almost 22 years. Still, about three-quarters of the 2,782 subjects were overweight or obese. Job strain had a lot to do with it. “People didn’t want to be perceived as working less than others,” so they’d spend long hours at their desks, she says, eating up time that could be spent relaxing at home, or getting some exercise at the gym. In especially stressful times, they told her, they also turned to junk food. Anecdotally, “when the next round of layoffs came, the first thing that disappeared from the vending machine were the brownies,” she says. When employees got home, more than 65 per cent of them watched two hours or more of television a day.

To read the rest of the Maclean’s article, click here.