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Job Stress, Economy Weighing on Americans

Worries lead to extra pounds and tip the scales toward more health risks, researcher says

FRIDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Stress can keep you up at night, make you snap at your spouse and children, and make your job seem overwhelming.

If that's not bad enough, stress can also make you gain weight -- especially if you're overweight to begin with, new research shows.

"Today's economy is stressing people out, and stress has been linked to a number of illnesses -- such as heart disease, high blood pressure and increased risk for cancer," study author Dr. Jason Block, a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar at Harvard University and an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a news release. "This study shows that stress is also linked to weight gain." release.

The researchers followed a nationally representative group of 1,355 men and women for nine years, and found that women who reported stress over job-related demands, financial strain, problems with family relationships, feeling limited by life's circumstances, depression and anxiety disorders had a tendency to gain weight.

For men, strained relationships or feeling constrained by life's circumstances wasn't associated with weight gain. But job issues, such as lack of authority or little opportunity to learn new skills or do interesting work, was associated with weight gain.

And those who were already overweight had a tendency to gain even more. People who started off with a higher body-mass index (BMI) tended to pack on the pounds, while those who started out with lower BMIs and were dealing with stress didn't, according to the study published in the July 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Coping with stress can lead to more unhealthful eating and other behavioral changes that may impact weight, the study authors noted.

In the workplace and in public health settings, stress reduction programs -- as well as access to weight-loss programs, exercise programs and flexible work schedules -- may help fight the trend.

"This is one of the first studies to explore the relationship between stress and weight gain in a U.S. population," Block said. "Our findings show that stress should be recognized as a threat to the well-being of American adults, especially those who are already overweight."

More information

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has more on how to manage stress.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, news release, June 7, 2009

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