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Health Consequences

“Modern medical science has identified a number of individual risk factors for CVD including cigarette smoking, total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol, hypertension, fibrinogen, overweight, diabetes, and sedentary behavior (lack of exercise). However, essential hypertension, the leading cause of CVD world-wide, is considered by many to be an unexplained disease (hence the name “essential”). Essential hypertension, as well as smoking, sedentary behavior, and  diabetes, have been linked to work stressors. Thus, much remains to be learned about the role of work in the development of CVD. CVD and hypertension appear to be epidemics of recent historical origin.

A major cross-cultural study found virtually no rise in blood pressure (BP) with age and no hypertension among hunter-gatherers, herders, or traditional family farmers. In contrast, men and women in urban industrial societies have steady rises of blood pressure (BP) with age and hypertension is common. This study also found large and significant correlations between BP and involvement in a money economy even after controlling for salt consumption and, for men, after controlling for body mass index (a measure of body weight). CVD, as a major cause of death, also developed at the same time as industrialization and urbanization, raising the question, what is it about industrialization and urbanization that leads to hypertension and CVD?

Evidence suggests that one important factor is the transformation of working life during the last 100-200 years in developed countries, away from agricultural work and relatively autonomous craft-based work toward machine-based (including computer-based) labor, based on the principles of the assembly line [9, 10]. Key features of the assembly-line approach to job design, whether in factories or offices, are high workload demands combined with low employee control or autonomy (known as “job strain”) [11], and, during periods of economic growth, long work hours.”*

*Schnall PL, Dobson M, Rosskam E, Editors Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures. Baywood Publishing, 2009.

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