A new Swedish study finds that male and female employees who feel they have a low degree of control at work are much more susceptible to weight gain.

However, long-term exposure to high work demands seems to predispose only female workers to weight gain, according to the findings published in the journal International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Researchers reviewed the data of 3,872 male and female participants enrolled in the Västerbotten Intervention Program, a Swedish population-based study. The participants were evaluated three times over a 20-year period with respect to such variables as body weight and demands and control at work. They were followed either from age 30 to 50 or from 40 to 60.

“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,” said lead author Dr. Sofia Klingberg, a researcher in community medicine and public health at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

To estimate the level of job demands, the respondents were asked to describe their work pace, psychological pressures, whether there was enough time to complete their duties and how often they experienced contradictory demands.

The questions regarding control at work covered such matters as how often they learned something new; whether the job called for imagination or advanced skills; and whether the respondent was personally able to choose what to do and how to do it.

The findings reveal that participants with a low degree of control in their work more frequently gained considerable weight, defined as a weight gain of 10 percent or more, during the course of the study. This applied to both women and men.

On the other hand, long-term exposure to high job demands only influenced weight gain in women. In just over half of the women who had been subjected to high job demands, a significant increase in weight took place over the 20 years. This gain in weight was around 20 percent higher than in women who experienced low job demands.

“When it came to the level of demands at work, only the women were affected. 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,” Klingberg said.

Education did not explain the associations in the study. Neither did quality of diet or other lifestyle factors. However, dietary intake was self-reported, so there is a certain risk of incorrect information.

Still, given the problems associated with work-related stress, the study is relevant in terms of public health. The researchers say that identifying groups who are vulnerable to stress and making efforts to reduce work-related pressure would likely help minimize weight gain as well as chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Source: University of Gothenburg