Job Stress Puts on Pounds

March 30, 2007 ( - Your job may be running you ragged - but it could also be making you fat.

The more job strain men and women reported, the more likely they were to become obese, Dr. Eric J. Brunner of the Royal Free and University College London Medical School and colleagues found, according to Reuters Health.

Worse – for those of you worried about that bulging spare tire – those high levels of stress were tied to a higher level of “central obesity” – defined as a waist circumference greater than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women.

Stress Points

Worse – the number of stress points that had an impact seemed rather modest, particularly in view of the study’s duration. Men and women who reported job strain on at least three occasions were 73% more likely to become obese than those who never said they were stressed on the job, and they were also 61% more likely to develop the aforementioned central obesity.

Those who reported job strain on one occasion were at 17% increased risk of obesity and central obesity, while those who reported stress on two occasions were at 24% increased risk of obesity and 41% increased risk of central obesity. Aside from the impact on personal appearance, chronic stress has been linked to heart disease and the metabolic syndrome, a series of symptoms including excess belly fat that increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to Brunner.

The researchers followed 6,895 men and 3,413 women for 19 years. All were 35 to 55 years old at the study’s outset. Participants reported levels of job strain, defined as having heavy demands, little decision-making power, and little social support, at several points during the study.

Adjusting for factors that could be related to both job strain and obesity, such as socioeconomic status and cigarette smoking, reduced the relationship by only a small amount.

The findings provide “firm evidence that high psychological workload, together with lack of social support at work, acts as a causal factor for obesity,” Brunner and his colleagues conclude in the April issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.