Dr. Harpriya Kaur, student in the department of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska College of Public Health Hypertension, is the lead author of a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Ms. Kaur and colleagues investigated whether selected psychosocial factors that are common among U.S. workers are associated with hypertension at a population level and identified industries and occupations that are associated with a high prevalence of hypertension, even after adjustment for common known risk factors. Three potentially harmful workplace psychosocial factors that are common across work settings that were evaluated in this study were: job insecurity, work-family imbalance, and hostile work environment (i.e., exposure to threats, bullying, or harassment). Since some previous research suggested a relationship between hypertension and long work hours, researchers also considered work hours. The researchers examined these associations in 17,524 U.S. workers who participated in the National Health Interview Survey in 2010.
The researchers found that the prevalence of hypertension was 1.11 times higher in workers who reported job insecurity and 1.15 times higher among those working in hostile environments compared to those unexposed to these conditions job insecurity is associated with feelings of lack of control over one’s situation, and anticipation of economic and family strain caused by future unemployment which can lead to psychological strain that adversely affects health and well-being as acknowledged in previous studies. Additionally, they found that hypertension prevalence was significantly elevated among those working in health care support occupations (prevalence ratio (PR):1.27; CI: 1.06-153) and those working in the public administration industry (PR: 1.18; CI: 1.04-1.34), which includes firefighters, police officers, correction officers etc. However, this study found no significant association between long work hours (>40 hours/week) and hypertension. Also, no significant association was found between work- family imbalance and hypertension.
While the study was limited due to its cross-sectional design, the study results suggest that public health professionals and employers should consider workplace interventions aimed at reducing hypertension that take organization-level factors, such as prevention of workplace hostility, into account along with individual-level health behaviors such as diet and exercise. This could be done as part of the Total Worker Health™ approach advocated by NIOSH, which involves integration of occupational safety and health protection with health promotion to prevent worker injury and illness and to advance health and well-being.