OSU Study: Long work hours lead to increased cancer, heart disease risk in women

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A new study from the Ohio State University says women who work long hours for the majority of their careers face an increase in risk of heart disease and cancer.

According to the research , 60 hours or more work weeks over three decades appears to triple the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart trouble and arthritis for women.

“Women – especially women who have to juggle multiple roles – feel the effects of intensive work experiences and that can set the table for a variety of illnesses and disability,” said Allard Dembe, professor of health services management and policy and lead author of the study, published online this week in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“People don’t think that much about how their early work experiences affect them down the road,” he said. “Women in their 20s, 30s and 40s are setting themselves up for problems later in life.”

The research also showed that men with tough work schedules appeared to fare much better.

Previous research indicated that women tend to take on a large share of family responsibility and face more pressure and stress than men when they work long hours.

Dembe said employers and government regulators should be aware of the risks to women. More flexible scheduling and on-the-job health screening, coaching, and support could go a long way to reduce health risks, he says.

This study used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, administered by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research and sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which includes interviews with more than 12,000 Americans born between 1957 and 1964.

Dembe and his collaborator, Mayo Clinic researcher and former Ohio State doctoral student Xiaoxi Yao, examined data for survey participants who were at least 40 in 1998, when interview questions began to include questions about health status and chronic conditions.

They averaged the self-reported hours worked each week over 32 years and compared the hours worked to the incidence of eight chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer (except skin cancer), arthritis or rheumatism, diabetes or high blood sugar, chronic lung disease including bronchitis or emphysema, asthma, depression and high blood pressure. They also examined the results by gender.

A minority of the full-time workers in the study put in 40 hours or fewer per week. Fifty-six percent worked an average of 41 to 50 hours; 13 percent worked an average of 51-60 hours; and 3 percent averaged more than 60 hours.

The results among female workers were striking, Dembe said. The analysis found a clear and strong relationship between long hours and heart disease, cancer, arthritis and diabetes.

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