After 12 years of follow-up, workers who experienced increasing stressful tasks on the job were 57 percent more likely to develop diabetes, the study team reports in Diabetes Care.
At the same time, workers who experienced a decline in coping resources like social support from friends and family or time for recreational activities were 68 percent more likely to develop diabetes.
“Major changes in work may affect our risk of developing diabetes,” said Mika Kivimaki, a researcher at University College London in the UK who wasn’t involved in the study.
“It is therefore important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight, even during turbulent periods at work,” Kivimaki said by email.
In the study, Yulong Lian of Xinjiang Medical University and colleagues didn’t report exactly how many workers developed diabetes. Lian didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Worldwide, nearly one in 10 adults had diabetes in 2014, and the disease will be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.
Most of these people have type 2 diabetes, which is associated with obesity and aging and happens when the body can’t properly use or make enough of the hormone insulin to convert blood sugar into energy. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to nerve damage, amputations, blindness, heart disease and strokes.
Physicians have long recommended exercise, weight loss and a healthy diet to control blood pressure and minimize complications of the disease. Stress reduction is also advised because, whether it’s caused on the job or not, stress may also make diabetes worse by directly contributing to a spike in blood sugar or by leading to unhealthy lifestyle habits that can cause complications.
The study looked at several forms of job-related stress and found that what researchers described as “task stressors” – such as feeling overloaded with work or unclear about expectations or responsibilities of the job, and the strains of physical labor – were the biggest contributors to the risk of developing diabetes.
So-called organizational stressors like interruptions, closures or poor communication didn’t appear to influence the odds of diabetes. Job control, or how much ability workers had to influence their day-to-day work activities, also didn’t appear to impact diabetes risk.
Among coping resources that influenced the risk of diabetes, declines in self-care and decreases in rational coping skills appeared to make the most difference, the study also found.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how changes in work stress or coping resources might influence the odds of developing diabetes.
Other limitations include its focus workers in a single, predominantly male industry and its reliance on stress and diabetes assessments at just two points in time.
“Stress has been associated with behavioral problems such as comfort or binge eating, consumption of high fat, energy-dense foods, poor dietary choices, physical inactivity and sedentary behavior,” Faghri, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“There is also an association with reduced sleep quality and negative psychological health such as depression, anxiety, insecurity, powerlessness and low self-esteem,” Faghri added. “These behavioral changes will lead to obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes.”