Work stress, obesity and the risk of type 2 diabetes: gender-specific bidirectional effect in the Whitehall II study

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Feb;20(2):428-33. doi: 10.1038/oby.2011.95. Epub 2011 May 19.


Psychosocial work stress has been linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes (T2DM), with the effect being consistently higher among women than men. Also, work stress has been linked to prospective weight gain among obese men but weight loss among lean men. Here, we aimed to examine the interaction between work stress and obesity in relation to T2DM risk in a gender-specific manner. We studied 5,568 white middle-aged men and women in the Whitehall II study, who were free from diabetes at analysis baseline (1993). After 1993, diabetes was ascertained at six consecutive phases by an oral glucose tolerance test supplemented by self-reports. Cox regression analysis was used to assess the association between job strain (high job demands/low job control) and 18-year incident T2DM stratifying by BMI (BMI <30 kg/m(2) vs. BMI ≥30 kg/m(2)). Overall, work stress was associated with incident T2DM among women (hazard ratio (HR) 1.41: 95% confidence intervals: 1.02; 1.95) but not among men (HR 0.87: 95% confidence interval 0.69; 1.11) (P(INTERACTION) = 0.017). Among men, work stress was associated with a lower risk of T2DM in nonobese (HR 0.70: 0.53; 0.93) but not in obese individuals (P(INTERACTION) = 0.17). Among women, work stress was associated with higher risk of T2DM in the obese (HR 2.01: 1.06; 3.92) but not in the nonobese (P(INTERACTION) = 0.005). Gender and body weight status play a critical role in determining the direction of the association between psychosocial stress and T2DM. The potential effect-modifying role of gender and obesity should not be ignored by future studies looking at stress-disease associations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / psychology
  • Employment / psychology
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Weight Gain