Is heart-disease risk stemming from work stress or poor lifestyle choices?
Is there a way to separate the two options and find the causation?
I love to look into studies that try to show causation of correlation between work (which is a natural activity for humans), stress levels and risk of health problems. I want to believe much of what is claimed, but alas, there are some studies and research that have to be criticized and analyzed in a very realistic way. And you also have to pay attention to the slant of an article written about some research.
There was an article written in U.S. News & World Report that was apparently created to send a message that there was a correlation between unhealthy life behaviors being tied to a stressful work environment. All I can say is to describe the article to you and have you read it, while I intend to go find there research and see for myself the methodology for this research to see if there was a way to isolate work from general life to determine these findings.
The article featured Capt. Leslie McDonald of NIOSH, who conducted research about heart problems and their relation to work stress and lifestyle behavioral choices. In the article, McDonald reported that her research team took a survey of more than 5,000 workers who were aged 45 and older in order to consider their heart health categorized by occupation. There is no indication whether past medical history of workers and past job history was taken into account in this research, which I think would have been important and helpful in finding better correlation and/or causation.
Anywho, what McDonald’s team found was that the occupation that had the highest percentage of smokers was in the transportation/materials moving vertical (about two of every nine people) as one of the key findings of the research. Two other findings seem sort of ironic, which means I am dubious of their legitimacy. One finding is that food and food-service workers were deemed to have the worst diets (how is that judged?), and public -safety workers (police officers and fire fighters) have reportedly the highest obesity risks, plus about 75 percent of these workers have high cholesterol and more than a third had high blood pressure.
In the case of this article, there seems to be an effort to actually make the connection bdeteen a worker’s occupation and his or her health and lifestyle choices, but it’s difficult to see whether the lifestyle choices determine the occupation, the occupation determines the lifestyle choices, or if they are completely unrelated because the choices were made before these workers got involved in their current occupations.
While I don’t disagree that lifestyle choices affect health, and I don’t disagree that certain occupations can contribute to health risks through elevated stress levels, I am agnostic about whether there can be found a direct causality or correlation between a person’s work and his risky health behaviors. A snapshot survey or study is clearly inadequate, since so many of us have lifestyle habits that have lasted longer than our work histories, and very few of us remain in the same industry our entire working lives.
What do you think? Have you seen a study that seems to provide more insight into these issues? Please feel free to suggest it, or come up with a methodology for a study that you would like to see.