Study: A high-stress job will make women, not men, gain weight

In a cruel trick of nature, having a long-term stressful job tends to cause more women to gain weight than men, a Swedish study finds.

”We were able to see that high job demands played a part in women’s weight gain, while for men there was no association between high demands and weight gain,” says Sofia Klingberg, a researcher in community medicine and public health at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and the study’s lead author, in a release.

The study included 3,872 participants that were part of the Västerbotten Intervention Program, a Swedish population-based study.

One reason for gain: no control over work

The women and men in the study were examined three times over a 20-year period about body weight, and demand and control at work. They were followed from either ages 30 to 50 or 40 to 60.

The respondents were given a questionnaire about work. The questions about demands included the pace of work, psychological pressures, whether there was enough time to complete their assignments and if there were conflicting demands. Questions about control asked how often they learned something new; whether the job called for imagination or advanced skills; and whether the respondent felt able to choose what to do and how to do it.

Those who had a low amount of control over their work – men and women alike – tended to gain weight. The research found that those with limited autonomy gained 10% or more of their body weight.

Women under pressure gain weight over the long term

Women in long-term high-pressure jobs, on the other hand, tended to gain weight at a rate of 20% more – over a period of 20 years – than those who had less control of their work. There was no connection to this happening with male participants in the same high-pressure work situation.

Education, quality of diet, or other lifestyle choices did not factor into the results of the study.

“When it came to the level of demands at work, only the women were affected, said Klingberg. “We haven’t investigated the underlying causes, but it may conceivably be about a combination of job demands and the greater responsibility for the home that women often assume. This may make it difficult to find time to exercise and live a healthy life.”

The study was published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health