Why Work Stress Makes Women Gain So Much Weight


Stress affects everyone differently. For some, feeling anxious or overwhelmed can lead to a loss of appetite, which then can translate into weight loss (though it's one of the more unhealthy ways of shedding pounds). For others, however, that stress leads to overeating. Now, a new study published in the journal International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health may provide evidence that work pressures hurt the waistline—at least for women.

Sofia Klingberg, a researcher in community medicine and public health at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and her colleagues enrolled 3,8000 Swedish men and women in a longitudinal program designed to assess the link between job demands and weight gain.

Over the course of 20 years, participants were asked questions that assessed how much control they had in the workplace and what their levels of job satisfaction were. How often did they learn something new? Did they feel like they had enough time to complete all their tasks during work hours? How much creativity did their job include and how much flexibility did their schedule entail? Researchers followed up with the participants—who were either 30 or 40 when the study began—three times throughout the duration of two decades.

The results found that both men and women frequently gained a considerable amount of weight when they felt they had very little control at work. However, only the women seemed to gain a lot of weight in response to feeling heavy pressures at work over a long period of time. Women who felt their jobs had very high demands gained 20 percent more weight over the course of 20 years than those who didn't feel especially pressured at work.

"When it came to the level of demands at work, only the women were affected," Klinberg said.

While Klinberg and her colleagues have not investigated the cause of this gender disparity, she believes "it may conceivably be about a combination of job demands and the greater responsibility for the home that women often assume. This may make it difficult to find time to exercise and live a healthy life."

Indeed, a a 2016 study conducted by the U.K.'s Office for National Statistics found that women still do about 60 percent more household work than men, including chores, cooking, and childcare. Other studies have also consistently pointed out that, when it comes to domestic labor, women are still doing more of the gruntwork than men. And, in corroboration with Klinberg's theory, a 1999 study of 42 male and female managers found that "women were more stressed by their greater unpaid workload and by a greater responsibility for duties related to home and family."

When it comes to balancing work and family life, it seems not much has changed since then.

While Klinberg does not mention this, one of the reasons that women seem to be more affected by high pressures at work may be due to the wage gap and the lack of women in high-ranking positions. According to recent studies, while women now make up almost half of the labor force in the U.S., only 25 percent of them hold executive and senior level positions, and only 6 percent of them are CEOs. Now, being a CEO does not necessarily equal fewer pressures at work, but having an over-demanding boss that micro-manages your time can really wreak havoc on your work-life balance. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the demands of your job and your home life, check out The 50 Top Secrets of a Perfect Work-Life Balance.

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