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Stress Management

Chronic Job Stress Seen Leading To Weight Gain/Obesity

Sixty-eight percent of adults are overweight or obese in the United States, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In a study of 2,782 employees at a large manufacturing facility in upstate New York, 72 to 75 percent of all employees were overweight or obese, found University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) researchers.

The study "associates high job pressure with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and weight gain," according to lead author Diana Fernandez, MD, MPH, PhD, an epidemiologist at URMC’s department of community and preventive medicine.

After remaining sedentary all day in stressful environments such as meetings or at computers in cubicles, the employees participating in the study reported that they looked forward to "vegging out" in front of the TV, and many admitted to "stress eating" due to the burden of an unmanageable workload.

More than 65 percent of employees at the manufacturing facility said they watched two or more hours of TV per day. Those who watched four or more hours of TV a day increased their odds of obesity by 150 percent, reported researchers, who believe the fatty snacking associated with watching TV is a major contributor to the weight gain.

Oddly enough, researchers found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables did little to offset the effect of chronic job stress on weight gain among the employees.

Exercise was determined to be key in managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight, however, some workers responded that they were hesitant to eat well or exercise at lunch because they feared "repercussions from leaving their desks too long."

"In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs," Fernandez said. "It is important to focus on strengthening wellness programs to provide good nutrition, ways to deal with job demands, and more opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty."

"Stressful working conditions are known to impact health behaviors directly and indirectly," stated the report. "Directly, stress can affect the neuroendocrine system, resulting in abdominal fat. Indirectly stress is linked to the consumption of too many fatty or sugary foods and inactivity."

Workplace wellness programs should not only offer health tips and ideas for employees, but should consider the entire organization structure of the company to provide ways to create a less stressful environment for everyone, the study findings concluded.

The research is published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Address: University of Rochester Medical Center, 601 Elmwood Avenue, Rochester, NY 14642; (585) 275-4539,

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