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Do Work Woes Bring Weight Gain?

Job Fatigue and Long Hours May Set the Scene for Extra Pounds
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WebMD Health News

May 17, 2005 -- Work fatigue and overtime hours may raise the risk of gaining weight, new research shows.

Does that mean that people are seeking solace at the vending machine for their job frustrations? Are they too exhausted to exercise and cook healthy meals in their free time? Do extra pounds mean it's time to update your resume or structure a more balanced life?

Those are big questions, and the answers aren't clear yet. The cycle of eating, emotions, and energy is complex and can reinforce itself. Dissatisfaction in one part of life can spill into other areas and vice versa.

For some people, job angst and long hours may be one piece of the puzzle, suggests a new study in the International Journal of Obesity.

When Work Is a Burden

The study included more than 7,000 women and about 1,800 men working in government jobs in Helsinki, the capital of Finland.

The bureaucrats were asked if they'd gained weight in the last year. They also reported the number of hours they worked and rated their "worker fatigue."

Curious about how you would rate? See how many of these statements you agree with:

  • I feel totally worn out after a day at work.
  • I feel tired in the morning when I have to get up and go to work.
  • I have to work too hard.
  • I feel like I'm totally exhausted.
  • My work is definitely too stressful.
  • I worry about my work even when I'm off duty.

Agreeing with four or more of those statements qualified as high work fatigue. Intermediate work fatigue was defined as agreeing with up to three of those statements. Overtime was working more than 40 hours per week.

Fatigue, Overtime, and Work Dissatisfaction Increase Weight

High work fatigue and working overtime were associated with weight gain in both sexes. The association wasn't stronger for major weight gain (more than 11 pounds), says the study.

Work fatigue was high in 15% of the women and 13% of the men. Overtime was reported by one in five men and 13% of the women.

Almost a quarter of all women (24%) and 19% of men said they had gained weight in the last year.

Women who reported dissatisfaction with their balance between work and home were also more likely to gain weight than women reporting complete or some satisfaction with work.

Among men, those with less demanding jobs were less likely to gain weight.

Unanswered Questions

The researchers -- who included Tea Lallukka of the University of Helsinki's public health department -- say they don't know if their findings apply to other groups of people.

They also don't know what the participants ate or how much they exercised. Perhaps people burning the midnight oil eat more snacks and fast food, write Lallukka and colleagues.

"Those reporting work fatigue might also be too tired to consider a healthy diet and prepare healthy meals, instead replacing them with industrial snacks, fast food, and sweets, behavior associated with weight gain," says the study.

"This same group may be too tired to engage in regular physical exercise, thereby gaining weight," write the researchers.

Since exercise has been shown to help people cope with stress, working out might help smooth out the workday, easing some of that job angst while keeping weight in check.

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