Hard-Working Women Are More Likely to Develop Diabetes

Woman Working

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AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis
There's now evermore reason for women to work less hours — especially mothers who work the equivalent of two full-time jobs, clocking in 98 hours per week with their household work, too. According to new research published in the journal BMU Open Diabetes Research & Care, if women work fewer hours, it'll lower their risk of diabetes. The researchers tracked 7,065 Canadians for a course of 12 years, and they found that women who consistently worked 45 hours or more a week had a 63 percent greater risk of diabetes, compared to those who worked between 35 and 40 hours a week.
Of course, the researchers took variables into consideration. But even when smoking, exercise, alcohol intake and body-mass index were taken into account, their risk of developing diabetes was only slightly reduced.
The same results can't be said for men who worked long hours; rather, men did not face an increased risk of diabetes. The researchers don't know the reasoning for the gender difference in risk, but they believe that the answer may lie in what women do after work hours — for many, that's childcare and elderly care.
"If you think about all the unpaid work they do on their off-hours, like household chores for example, they simply do more than men, and that can be stressful, and stress negatively impacts your health," said study co-author Mahee Gilbert-Ouimet.
Workplaces may want to consider new ways of fostering work cultures that promote a healthy work-life balance, as well as implementing programs that encourage employees to take time off, such as unlimited paid time off.
For more women than men, high stress, guilt and workload concerns keep them in the office, according to Project: Time Off’s report, State of American Vacation 2017. They report experiencing more stress than men at work (74 percent to 67 percent), and are more likely to say that guilt (25 percent to 20 percent) and the mountain of work to which they'd return (46 percent to 40 percent) hold them back from vacationing. They also worry more than men about vacation-related absences making the seem less committed to our jobs (28 percent to 25 percent). Managers should be leading by example. And, as more women penetrate leadership positions, they, too, should be leading by example.
After all, workplaces depend on the good health of their employees — and many of them cover the health insurance for their eligible employees. And, by 2030, an estimated 439 million people will be living with diabetes, according to a pooled analysis of 751 population-based studies with 4.4 million participants that looked at worldwide trends in diabetes since 1980. The research was published in The National Center for Biotechnology Information, and the results suggest a 50 percent increase from the number of people who had diabetes as of 2010, according to a study titled "Global Estimates of the Prevalence of Diabetes for 2010 and 2030."
Another step workplaces can take to help lower hardworking women's risk of developing diabetes is to pay women higher wages. According to the study, women who work longer hours also tend to be in lower-paying jobs than men, which may contribute to the gender difference.
"Even when men and women do similar work, women earn less, Gilbert-Ouimet said. "Of course, that would impact women's health. Think about the stress of working harder and getting less for it. It's important for us to study women. They are still under-evaluated in most areas of health, and it's a real shame, because if we look closer, there are still big inequalities."
The research is consistent with past studies. For example, a 2016 study in Japan drew a connection between the risk of diabetes and workers who did more than 45 hours of work (though it differed by shift work), and a 2006 study focused on female nurses who tend to work a whirlwind of hours found that "working overtime predicted a slightly elevated risk of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged female nurses."
Overall, working longer and odd hours can be detrimental to employees' health. More research needs to be done to look into the ways it particularly affects women, who tend to work double time for less pay — and companies should be making efforts accordingly.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.