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Unemployed Women Face Higher Heart Disease Risk

Work May Be a Protective Factor for a Woman's Heart
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 17, 2005 -- Working can be good for a woman's heart, say two CDC researchers.

Behavioral scientist Sheree Marshall-Williams, PhD, and Sari Hopson wanted to see how employment status affected women's physical and mental health. Previous studies had delivered conflicting results. Some said work was stressful for women. But the new report comes down in favor of work -- inside or outside the home.

"We found that employment is not a stressor in women," says Marshall-Williams in a news release. "For women in this study, employment may actually be protective."

Data came from more than 34,800 black and white American women aged 25 to 64. The findings were announced at the Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke.

The women were divided into three groups: employed, involuntarily unemployed, and homemaker. None of the women had disabilities that prevented them from working.

Each woman reported her own physical and mental health. For instance, the women revealed any diagnosis of high blood pressure or heart disease, which includes a previous heart attack, chest pain, or stroke. They also said how many "poor mental health days" they'd had in the past month.

Better Health for Working Women

Women who were unemployed had the worst physical and mental health. In that group, 28% said they had high blood pressure and 6% reported having heart disease.

Unemployed women reported more "poor mental health days" than the employed women and homemakers. They reported an average of nine days in the prior month.

Employed women reported the best health. Of those women, 19% said they had high blood pressure and only 2% said they had heart disease. Four out of their past 30 days were "poor mental health days."

Losing a job can strain mental health, especially when money is tight and health insurance is gone or inadequate, say the researchers.

Unexpected Result for Homemakers

Homemakers had similar results to employed women except for heart disease. Nineteen percent reported high blood pressure, yet around 4% reported heart disease. "The odds of reporting a heart disease diagnosis were 1.7 times higher among homemakers compared to employed women," say the researchers.

That came as a surprise.

"We weren't expecting differences in the employed women and the homemakers," says Marshall-Williams in the news release. "It may be that employed women have more access in the workplace to health intervention such as screening for high blood pressure and stress reduction programs. That may be one protective factor for women."

Some findings were affected by race. Homemaker status and unemployment had a more negative impact on black women's physical health, write the researchers. For instance, unemployed black women who wanted to work were 2.6 times more likely than employed black women to report heart disease.

More studies on the topic should be done, say the researchers. Interventions might help unemployed women stay healthy, they suggest.

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