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Cardiovascular Disease and Workplace Stress


While declining smoking rates have caused cardiovascular disease to decline overall, some risk factors are rising, such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.

There’s plenty of fallout from worldwide globalization, but add another effect: high-income countries may experience more workplace stress, with the result being more cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Peter Schnall, MD, MPH, and Marnie Dobson, PhD, University of California at Irvine, and Paul Landsbergis, PhD, MPH, EdD, of SUNY Downstate, have created an economic model that shows how globalization is contributing to the worldwide epidemic of CVD, which is the nation’s number 1 killer and accounts for 30% of all deaths worldwide. The model was published in the most recent issue of International Journal of Health Services.

While mortality rates from CVD have generally been declining—in the United States, this is largely from people quitting smoking over the last 5 decades—some risk factors have increased. These include hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, which have been on the rise as people have gained weight and adopted more sedentary lifestyles. Research shows that the effects of the work environment, including psychosocial job stressors, are taking a toll and contributing to CVD risk.

The model created by the study shows how economic globalization affects the job market and work patterns in high-income countries, affecting things like unreasonable job demands, less employee control over the work-life balance, job insecurity, and long hours. The rise of digital technology that lets employees stay “connected” at all hours increases the expectation that workers can answer email and perform tasks even after the official end of the business day, increasing job stress because employees are never “off.”

“Given the high cost of medical treatment and the economic impact on employers and society of ill health, lost productivity, and absence due to sickness, it is in the interest of all to seriously consider improving work organization,” said Landsbergis, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate.

The authors recommend:

  • Evaluating occupations to find elevated levels of hazardous work characteristics
  • Passing laws or rules to limit stress on the job
  • Creating upper limits on weekly and yearly hours to reduce CVD risk
  • Mandating vacation time
  • Creating a “living wage” so that workers are not taking on multiple jobs to make ends meet


Schnall PL, Dobson M, Landsbergis P. Globalization, work, and cardiovascular disease. Intl J Health Serv. 2016;46(4):656. DOI:10.1177/0020731416664687.

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