Increased Job Strain Linked to Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, New Study Finds

August 8, 2023

In a new study, “Increased job strain and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective cohort study in U.S. workers,” UCLA Public Health researchers have identified that an increase in job strain over time might be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) including heart disease and stroke, the leading cause of death in the United States. The study is the first of its kind to specifically investigate the association between job strain changes and CVD mortality in a U.S. population.

What is Job Strain?
Job strain is defined as the combination of high job demands and low job control. People who are under a lot of pressure at work but feel they have little control over their tasks may be experiencing job strain. This study found that not just the presence of job strain, but an increase in job strain over a ten-year period, is particularly harmful.

Key Findings:
The study utilized data from the Mid-life in the United States (MIDUS) Study and included 1,870 workers, who were free from CVD at the beginning of the study. One of the most critical findings was that those who experienced increased job strain had a stronger association with CVD mortality compared to those who only experienced job strain at a single point in time. Dr. Timothy Matthews, first author of the study and awardee of a SCERC Pilot Project Research Training grant, said “The methodological approach taken in this study is unique, as it used various measurements of job strain over time, thus providing a more comprehensive view of the relationship between job strain and cardiovascular disease.”

What This Means:
This research suggests that not only is job strain a potential health risk, but that an increase in job strain over time can pose an even greater danger to heart health. “The findings emphasize the importance of monitoring and managing job strain, not only for employers but also for
healthcare providers and policymakers”, said Dr. Jian Li, senior author of the study and Professor of Work and Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, Fielding School of Public Health and School of Nursing.

Why It Matters:
Cardiovascular disease claims over 600,000 lives and costs $320 billion in healthcare and productivity losses annually in the U.S. Understanding risk factors, including non-traditional ones like job strain, is vital for prevention and early intervention.

Next Steps:
This research highlights the need for further examination of job strain and the development of workplace intervention programs. Both employers and governments must consider measures to reduce job strain, such as work task redesign, flexible working arrangements, workplace empowerment, and mental well-being programs.

The study, led by UCLA School of Public Health’s Environmental Health Sciences doctoral student at the time, Timothy Matthews, was funded by the Southern California NIOSH Education and Research Center (SCERC) as part of the Pilot Project Research Training (PPRT) program. Currently, Dr. Matthews has been appointed as an Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at California State University, Northridge.

See publication here:

Citation:  Matthews TA, Chen L, Li J. Increased job strain and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective cohort study in U.S. workers. Industrial Health, 2023, 61 (4): 250-259.