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Job Stress Increases Women's Risk Of Diabetes, Not Men's, Study Claims

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Job stress increases women's diabetes risk, a Canadian study has found.
Job stress increases women's diabetes risk, a Canadian study has found.

It's well known that stress can take a toll on the body in multiple ways, but a new study suggests that it may impact women's health in a way it doesn't affect men's.

The research, published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine, tracked 7,443 men and women working in Ontario, Canada over nine years. The results showed that low job control -- defined in a previous study as minimal "control over [one's] tasks and [one's] conduct during the working day" -- increased women's risk for diabetes, but did not have the same effect on men. None of the participants had a history of diabetes.

Peter Smith, Ph.D., the study's lead author, wrote that women's risk could be caused by a stress-induced change in immune system functioning or hormone levels, or it could be due to "changes in health behavior patterns, particularly those related to diet and energy expenditure, possibly as coping mechanisms."

That second conjecture seems in line with the results of a Finnish study published in April which showed women who felt exhaustion, cynicism, the sense that their work was meaningless, and a "lost occupational self-respect caused by chronic work stress" were less likely to reduce their emotional and uncontrolled eating than women who weren't so burned out.

But when Smith suggested to the Agence France-Presse that women might be "more likely to turn to foods with higher fat and sugar content than men," Jezebel's Anna Breslaw noted that the findings echo the stereotype of the woman who deals with her feelings by reaching for a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

Breslaw continued:

I just wonder if Smith's suggestion that ladies' sadbinging on snacks is anything more than a gendered assumption, as no data mentioned in the article says anything about the dietary habits of the studied women. Sort of a big jump from the simple citation of "low job control."

Smith responded to Breslaw's comments in an email to The Huffington Post. "In neither the article, nor in the press release have we suggested that the primary pathway linking women to diabetes is through increased consumption of high fat foods," he said. "I do think, however, that it is important to understand these gender/sex differences in the relationship between low job control and diabetes ... I think these differences are likely beyond something simple like increased consumption of fatty foods in response to stress by women compared to men."

Smith also said that media coverage of this particular conclusion "reflects reductionism and gendered assumptions from the media, not of the research team."

One part of the results that Smith said he did not understand was the finding that women with low job control but plenty of social support had a higher risk of diabetes than those with less support. Smith wrote that more research is needed to determine what might be behind those findings.

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