• Open Access

Job strain in relation to body mass index: pooled analysis of 160 000 adults from 13 cohort studies


Solja Nyberg, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Topeliuksenkatu 41 a A, 00250 Helsinki, Finland.
(fax: +358 30 474 2552; e-mail: solja.nyberg@ttl.fi).
Mika Kivimaki, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK. (fax: +44 20 7419 6732; e-mail: m.kivimaki@ucl.ac.uk).


Abstract.  Nyberg ST, Heikkilä K, Fransson EI, Alfredsson L, De Bacquer D, Bjorner JB, Bonenfant S, Borritz M, Burr H, Casini A, Clays E, Dragano N, Erbel R, Geuskens GA, Goldberg M, Hooftman WE, Houtman IL, Jöckel K-H, Kittel F, Knutsson A, Koskenvuo M, Leineweber C, Lunau T, Madsen IEH, Magnusson Hanson LL, Marmot MG, Nielsen ML, Nordin M, Oksanen T, Pentti J, Rugulies R, Siegrist J, Suominen S, Vahtera J, Virtanen M, Westerholm P, Westerlund H, Zins M, Ferrie JE, Theorell T, Steptoe A, Hamer M, Singh-Manoux A, Batty GD, Kivimäki M, for the IPD-Work Consortium (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland; Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden; Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark; Versailles-Saint Quentin University, Versailles, France; Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, Villejuif, France; Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark; Centre for Maritime Health and Safety, Esbjerg, Denmark; Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium; University Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany; West-German Heart Center Essen, University Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany; TNO, Hoofddorp, the Netherlands; Mid Sweden University, Sundsvall, Sweden; University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden; University College London, London, UK; Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark; Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden; Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Turku, Finland; Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA; University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark; University of Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany; University of Turku, Turku; Folkhälsan Research Center, Helsinki; Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland; Uppsala University, Uppsala; Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; University of Bristol, Bristol; University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK; and University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland). Job strain in relation to body mass index: pooled analysis of 160 000 adults from 13 cohort studies. J Intern Med 2012; 272: 65–73.

Background.  Evidence of an association between job strain and obesity is inconsistent, mostly limited to small-scale studies, and does not distinguish between categories of underweight or obesity subclasses.

Objectives.  To examine the association between job strain and body mass index (BMI) in a large adult population.

Methods.  We performed a pooled cross-sectional analysis based on individual-level data from 13 European studies resulting in a total of 161 746 participants (49% men, mean age, 43.7 years). Longitudinal analysis with a median follow-up of 4 years was possible for four cohort studies (= 42 222).

Results.  A total of 86 429 participants were of normal weight (BMI 18.5–24.9 kg m−2), 2149 were underweight (BMI < 18.5 kg m−2), 56 572 overweight (BMI 25.0–29.9 kg m−2) and 13 523 class I (BMI 30–34.9 kg m−2) and 3073 classes II/III (BMI ≥ 35 kg m−2) obese. In addition, 27 010 (17%) participants reported job strain. In cross-sectional analyses, we found increased odds of job strain amongst underweight [odds ratio 1.12, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00–1.25], obese class I (odds ratio 1.07, 95% CI 1.02–1.12) and obese classes II/III participants (odds ratio 1.14, 95% CI 1.01–1.28) as compared with participants of normal weight. In longitudinal analysis, both weight gain and weight loss were related to the onset of job strain during follow-up.

Conclusions.  In an analysis of European data, we found both weight gain and weight loss to be associated with the onset of job strain, consistent with a ‘U’-shaped cross-sectional association between job strain and BMI. These associations were relatively modest; therefore, it is unlikely that intervention to reduce job strain would be effective in combating obesity at a population level.