Why Bad Jobs Mean More Heart Risk

Worse Heart Function Linked to Low-Status Work

From the WebMD Archives

June 6, 2005 -- Bad jobs often mean bad hearts, researchers report.

The findings have nothing to do with whether or not one is a good person. They have everything to do with health.

Study after study shows that people with low-status jobs have more heart disease than people who do higher-status work. Now Harry Hemingway, MRCP, and colleagues at England's University College London Medical School say they know why.

The culprit: low heart-rate-variability. A healthy person's heart beats faster or slower according to the body's need. But people whose heartbeats don't change very much have a higher risk of heart attack and sudden death.

Hemingway and colleagues find that people in low-status jobs tend to have low heart rate variability. Why? A person with a low-status job -- especially a job in which he or she has little control -- is more likely to smoke, to get too little exercise, to drink alcohol, and to have a poor diet.

Components of metabolic syndrome -- a group of factors that puts a person at high risk of diabetes and heart disease -- were found to be associated with lower heart rate variability.

The researchers say that disturbances in heart rate variability may be involved in mediating some of the excess heart disease risk associated with low social positions.

Hemingway and colleagues would like to see studies of whether giving people more control over their work might reduce their heart risk.

The findings appear in the June 14 issue of Circulation.