CDC Finds Higher ALS, Parkinson Disease Mortality in Those With White-Collar Occupations

Alison Rodriguez

The progressive neurodegenerative diseases amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson disease share the risk factors of increased age and male sex, but new research indicates there is also an association between a patient’s occupation and the mortality rate from these diseases.

The findings come from a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study in which researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health National Occupational Mortality Surveillance, a surveillance system that included the approximately 12.1 million deaths from 30 US states that were evaluated in the study. The data in the analysis considered the demographics of each death, including the socioeconomic status (SES) level of the person’s occupation, in order to find patterns of risk factors

Occupations were divided into 26 categories based on similar job responsibilities and level of SES. From the categories, the study found an association between higher SES occupation and an elevated ALS and Parkinson disease mortality rate. These occupations include high-level jobs in industries like computers and mathematics, architecture and engineering, law, and education.

 “If the associations between higher SES occupations and ALS and Parkinson disease mortality are real, then the burdens of ALS and Parkinson disease mortality could also increase in the future because the U.S. workforce is increasing in the number and proportion of workers employed in higher SES occupations,” the researchers explained.

“The shifts in the U.S. workforce toward older ages and higher SES occupations highlight the importance of understanding this finding, which will require studies with designs that provide evidence for causality, detailed exposure assessment, and adjustment for additional potential confounders,” continued the study.

Despite the association found, the study acknowledged that the research does not explain what specific occupational or non-occupational factors may contribute to this correlation.  

“Adjusting for potential confounding by cigarette smoking and socioeconomic status, using incidence rather than mortality to ascertain outcomes, and incorporating information regarding the timing of exposures relative to the timing of outcomes might help further elucidate the reasons for these findings, so that strategies for prevention could be developed,” the study authors concluded.
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