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Older workers in office support, service occupations at higher risk for poor cardiovascular health profile

  • March 02, 2016
Middle aged and older workers at higher risk for cardiovascular health in some jobs.
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Research out of the nationwide REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study looked at 5,566 workers age 45 and older identified that those in sales, office support or service occupations have more risk factors for heart disease and stroke than workers in management and professional jobs.

Fewer than 41 percent of the workers had a ranking of “ideal” in five of the seven cardiovascular health factors (blood pressure, blood sugar, diet, weight, cholesterol, physical activity and smoking. On the other end of the scale, 88 percent were listed as nonsmokers and 78 percent were credited with having ideal glucose levels.

“We wanted to be a bit flexible with the definition of optimum health so we decided to go for five of the seven components as ideal rather than having all seven ideal,” said Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., assistant dean and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. “It’s great to see so few people smoking, but ideal cardiovascular health is defined by more than just nonsmoking.”

The study found that none of the older workers achieved ideal levels of cardiovascular health, mostly because of their diet.

“Achieving a healthy diet can be even more challenging for a person working eight to 12 hours per day away from the home,” stated Judd, co-author on this study and co-investigator on the REGARDS study. “This limits the time available to shop for and prepare healthier options.”

Overall diet health was based on workers’ meeting four of five goals: consuming 4.5 or more cups of fruits or vegetables a day, 450 or fewer calories a week in sugary foods, and three or more 1-ounce servings of whole grains daily.

The research, presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 meeting, breaks down each occupation as classified by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, where it found:

  • Transportation and material-moving workers had the highest smoking rate among the occupation groups, where 22 percent were classified as smokers.
  • Sixty-eight percent of sales, office and administrative support workers had poor eating habits. Sixty-nine percent of sales professionals did not have ideal total cholesterol levels, and 82 percent of office and administrative support staff did not have ideal scores for physical activity.
  • Employees in food preparation and service had the worst diet profile, in which 79 percent had poor diet quality.
  • Police, firefighters and their peers were 90 percent more likely to be overweight or obese, with 77 percent not having ideal total cholesterol levels and 35 percent having high blood pressure.
  • Generally, management professionals had better cardiovascular health than the others. One-third had ideal body mass, 75 percent were at least moderately active and only 6 percent were smokers. Within this group, 72 percent of those in business and finance had poor eating habits.

The study scored workers as having “ideal,” “intermediate” or “poor” cardiovascular health in the seven areas.

Ideal scores were earned if blood pressure readings were lower than 120/80 mmHg without medicines, total cholesterol was below 200 mg/dL, and blood sugar was lower than 100 mg/dL while fasting or 140 without fasting. Body Mass Index was observed as ideal at 25 or lower. Workers were categorized as smoker or nonsmoker. Physical activity levels were measured as ideal when workers engaged in intense, break-a-sweat activity four or more times a week, including at work.

Lead author, Capt. Leslie MacDonald, Sc.D., senior scientist in the U.S. Public Health Service, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, of the Centers for Disease Control, suggests that employees consider taking small steps to improve their overall cardiovascular health, including:

  • Going for a walk during lunch or other breaks
  • Parking farther away from destinations
  • Taking the stairs instead of elevators
  • Managing stress through breathing exercises or meditation
  • Bringing healthy snacks to work such as fruits, nuts and yogurt
  • Drinking water throughout the day

The UAB-led REGARDS is ongoing study sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke with over 30,000 individuals enrolled. It is focused on learning more about the factors that increase a person’s risk of having a stroke.

Virginia J. Howard, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the UAB School of Public Health, was senior author. Other co-authors outside of UAB are Stephen Bertke, Ph.D.; Misty J. Hein, Ph.D.; Sherry Baron, M.D.; and Robert Merritt. The full abstract of this particular study will be published later this spring.