4 Chronic Diseases Linked to Working Long Hours

Meghan Ross, Senior Associate Editor
Published Online: Thursday, June 30th, 2016
Nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and the patients they care for should be aware that working long hours regularly is associated with a few chronic diseases.

This association is especially true for women, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

The researchers sought to determine any links between long work schedules and 8 major chronic diseases: heart disease, non-skin cancer, arthritis, diabetes, chronic lung disease, asthma, chronic depression, and hypertension. To do so, they used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which collected the job histories of nearly 7500 individuals between 1978 and 2009. The survey examined health status and chronic conditions, in addition to hours worked.

The majority of those surveyed worked more than 40 hours. Around 56% worked between 41 and 50 hours, and 13% worked between 51 and 60 hours. Around 3% worked more than 60 hours, on average.

The researchers found that over the 32-year period, working long hours on a regular basis was linked to a higher risk for the following 4 conditions among women:

1)    Heart disease
2)    Non-skin cancer
3)    Arthritis
4)    Diabetes

Women who worked around 60 hours per week or more over 3 decades seemed to have 3 times the risk of developing these conditions. The risk climbs at more than 40 hours and “takes a decidedly bad turn above 50 hours,” according to an Ohio State University press release.

In the press release, lead study author Allard Dembe, ScD, a professor of health services management and policy at Ohio State University, theorized that women may be struck harder by long work hours because they may have more responsibilities on top of work, which might make work feel less satisfying.

“Perhaps the additional demands that women face—such as pregnancy, raising children, and domestic responsibilities—are partially responsible for the much greater risk for women, compared with men, that was observed in this study,” Dr. Dembe told Contemporary Clinic.

In fact, men who worked around 41 to 50 hours actually had lower risk of heart disease, lung disease, and depression compared with men who worked 40 hours or fewer. The one chronic condition that was linked to working long hours in men was arthritis.

Dr. Dembe pointed out that there may be a difference between an individual being forced to work overtime and he or she deciding to work overtime.
“You might still be working hard, but the fact that it’s your choice might help you stay healthier,” he said.

Dr. Dembe suggested that health coaching at the workplace, flexible schedules, screening, and support could help prevent employees from developing these conditions. Companies that are vigilant about preventing their employees from working too many hours can benefit from lower medical costs and better quality of work.

“The study suggests that more emphasis should be placed on early screening for chronic disease, especially among patients who work long-hour shifts, for example, an average of more than 50 or 60 hours per week,” Dr. Dembe told Contemporary Clinic.


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