Work environment may up risk of hypertension in men

Low job control is associated with an increased risk of hypertension among men, says a study from the Institute for Work & Health and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

Low job control is linked to an increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) among men, but not women. This was the key finding of a study by researchers at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), published in the January/February issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health (vol. 104, no. 1).

Job control refers to the ability to make decisions about the way work is done or skills are used in the job. The study found that, among men reporting low job control, 27 per cent were diagnosed with hypertension during a nine-year period. This compared to 18 per cent among men reporting high job control.

The study also found the proportion of cases of hypertension among men that could be attributed to low job control was 12 per cent—higher than the proportion of cases attributed to poor health behaviours, such as smoking and not getting enough exercise. Low job control was second only to obesity, to which 26 per cent of cases of hypertension among men could be attributed.

Primary prevention programs to reduce hypertension are largely aimed at changing unhealthy behaviours, says IWH Scientist Dr. Peter Smith, who led the research. But this study suggests that prevention strategies might also assess the potential for modifying work environments as a hypertension control intervention.

What those strategies should be remains unclear. As IWH President and Senior Scientist Cam Mustard points out, we don’t have solid evidence on how best to increase job control. Furthermore, adds Mustard, a member of the study team, we don’t yet have research to show interventions to increase job control would, indeed, lower the incidence of hypertension among men.

Hypertension is a risk factor for strokes and heart attacks, among other health ailments. Its prevention is a public health concern in Canada and other developed countries. In Ontario, the incidence of hypertension increased by 60 per cent from 1995 to 2005: from 153 to 244 cases per 1,000 Ontarians.

For details about the study, go to: www.iwh.on.ca/media/2013-feb-27. An earlier article by the same team found low job control is associated with an increased risk of diabetes among women, but not men. For more information on that study, see the Fall 2012 issue of At Work.

Source: At Work, Issue 72, Spring 2013: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto