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Release Date: May 22, 1998

Contact:Stephen Stansfeld, PhD, MRCPsych
44 (0)171 391 1692

Work Demands Predict Poor Health

Researchers looking at the impact of work and social support on health have discovered that imbalance between rewards obtained from work and effort put into work predicts poor health.

In terms of social support, persistent negative interaction with close persons also predicts future poor health.

"Negative aspects of work and home environments are bad for your health," according to Dr. Stephen Stansfeld, author of this report published in the May-June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

The relation between work, social support, and health has been studied by researchers at University College London in the Whitehall II Study of 10,308 British government employees. Physical, psychological, and social health was measured by the SF-36 General Health Survey, a well-known North American questionnaire on health functioning and quality of life.

In both men and women, effort-reward imbalance was related to poorer health. Psychological demands at work, including conflicting demands and high work pace, were important predictors in women, whereas low emotional support from close persons was an important predictor of poor health functioning in men. Negative aspects of close inter-personal relationships were predictors of poor health in both men and women. The link between work and impairment of health functioning could not be explained by health behaviors such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, or by pre-existing illness.

Negative characteristics of work, including high psychological demands, effort-reward imbalance, and negative aspects of personal relationships, are powerful independent predictors of poor future health functioning. Their role may be causal in predicting future ill health.

The fact that these work and social factors influence all three types of physical, psychological, and social functioning suggests they may increase general susceptibility to impaired functioning and illness. Further research is needed to confirm that these findings from self-support measures correspond with objectively measured illness outcomes.

Note to editors: The Whitehall II Study is funded from multiple sources. This work was funded by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (5 ROI HSO 6516) (US) and the Health and Safety Executive (UK).

Dr. Stephen Stansfeld, Co-Director, Whitehall II Study, University College, London,
Department of Epidemiology and Public Health
1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1 E 6BT
Tel: 011 44 171 391 1692
Fax: 011 44 171 813 0242


Psychosomatic Medicine is the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society, published bimonthly. For information about the Journal, contact Joel E. Dimsdale, MD, Editor-in-chief: (619) 543-5468.

Center for the Advancement of Health
Contact: Richard Hébert
(202) 387-2829

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