A new model illustrates how economic globalization may create stressful employment factors in high-income countries. The high stress environments have triggered a worldwide epidemic of cardiovascular disease (CVD), researchers say.
Drs. Peter Schnall and Marnie Dobson with University of California, Irvine, and Dr. Paul Landsbergis with SUNY Downstate Medical Center coauthored the paper in the International Journal of Health Services.
“We conclude from more than 30 years of epidemiological research that CVD is a disease of modern industrial society and not the natural result of aging,” said Schnall.
“It is related to forms of production that emerged with industrialization and that have expanded with economic globalization: long work hours, repetitive work, high demands, lack of control, long hours, and job insecurity.”
The authors state that cardiovascular disease is responsible for about 30 percent of all deaths worldwide.
While mortality rates from CVD have been mostly declining in the advanced industrialized nations, some risk factors — including hypertension, obesity, and diabetes — have been on the increase everywhere.
Researchers investigating the social causes of CVD have produced strong evidence showing how the psychosocial job stressors associated with work can produce chronic biologic responses like hypertension and promote unhealthy behaviors, which increase CVD risk.
The researchers also offer a theoretical model that illustrates how economic globalization influences the labor market and work organization in high-income countries.
This environment, in turn, exacerbates job characteristics such as unreasonable demands, low job control, effort-reward imbalance, job insecurity, and long hours.
“Given the high costs of medical treatment and the economic impact on employers and society of ill health, lost productivity, and sickness absence, it is in the interest of all to seriously consider improving work organization,” said Landsbergis.
The authors make the following recommendations:
- Implement national surveillance of occupations, industries, and workplaces to identify elevated levels of hazardous work characteristics;
- Pass regulations and laws limiting psychosocial stressors on the job;
- Establish upper limits of weekly and yearly work hours (to reduce CVD risk);
- Mandate vacation time for all employees to facilitate recovery;
- Pass regulations to mandate a “living wage” that provides sufficient support so that workers are not forced to work excessively long hours, and;
- Pass legislation that increases the economic security of precarious workers.
“Global economic policies and the rise of the new flexible labor market have caused an increase in precarious employment in advanced industrialized countries,” said Dobson, an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Irvine Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.
“These work stressors in turn contribute to CVD risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.”