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Canadian study links work stress and diabetes in women

Among the many efforts to find a cure for the growing diabetes epidemic in North America, the Institute for Clinical Evaluation Sciences at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and the University of Toronto undertook a nine-year study of relationships between the work environment and diabetes. As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the study turned up some surprising, and some not so surprising, data.

The main finding of the study was that women working in positions where they little to no control over their jobs have a higher incidence of diabetes onset than men in similar jobs. The study indicated women working in such work environments doubled their risk of developing diabetes.

Dr. Richard Glazier, one of the study's researchers, said in a CBC interview, "How men and women react to stress is not totally clear, but it's clear that in the work environment, stress can have an impact on health." Although previous studies had concentrated on the psychosocial work environment and its effect on heart disease and high blood pressure, this was one of the few studies on diabetes and work stress. The results were consistent with a Swedish study, the only other one of its type.

According to the CBC article, the population-based study used data on 7,443 people selected from the 2000-2001 Canadian Community Health Survey. Subjects were between 35 and 60, were not self-employed, worked more than 10 hours a week for more than 20 weeks per year, and had never had diabetes.

The study was also reported in The Daily Meal, quoting Peter Smith, lead author of the study. "Men and women react differently to workplace stress," said Smith. He also suggested that women under stress are "more likely to turn to foods with higher fat and sugar content than men." This tendency to turn to unhealthy eating practices may be one explanation of the study's findings.

Medical Daily also weighed in on the study, noting that workplace stress can lead to increased diabetes risk in two ways: disrupting the immune system and hormonal balance and causing the individual to begin practicing unhealthy lifestyle habits.

The relationship between those variables and the probability of the onset of diabetes during the nine-year follow-up period was examined, with adjustments for each individual's body mass index (BMI) and other health behaviors. It was also noted that women tended to be in jobs with lower activity levels than those held by men.

Glazier cited one finding that was an anomaly, noting that previous literature indicated that the combination of high work stress and poor social support was bad for you. However, this study's data indicate that women getting high levels of support in the workplace were still at increased risk of diabetes. "We were very surprised when we found low social support at work was good for you," Glazier told CBC.

Because of this finding, the researchers concluded that micromanaging might not be a good thing. They urged employers to consider giving employees more control over their jobs, which has been shown to generate higher job satisfaction and less stress and greater productivity.

Sources

"Diabetes risk higher in women than men with no job control," Canadian Broadcasting Company, cbc.ca, Marlene Habib

"Low job control doubles the risk of diabetes in women," Medical Daily, medicaldaily.com, Amber Moore

"Stressful jobs are giving women diabetes," The Daily Meal, thedailymeal.com, Jessica Chou

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