Is work-family conflict a pathway between job strain components and binge eating? A cross-sectional analysis from the ELSA-Brasil study

J Eat Disord. 2022 Feb 5;10(1):16. doi: 10.1186/s40337-022-00540-x.


Background: Job strain has been reported as a trigger for binge eating, yet the underlying mechanisms have been unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether work-family conflict is a pathway in the association between job strain and binge eating, considering the possible effect-modifying influence of body mass index (BMI).

Methods: This cross-sectional analysis included 12,084 active civil servants from the multicenter Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil). Job strain was assessed using the Demand-Control-Support Questionnaire. Work-family conflict was considered as a latent variable comprising three items. Binge eating was defined as eating a large amount of food in less than 2 h at least twice a week in the last six months with a sense of lack of control over what and how much was eaten. Structural equation modelling was used to test the role of work-family conflict in the association between job strain and binge eating, stratifying for BMI.

Results: For individuals of normal weight, positive associations were found between skill discretion and binge eating (standardized coefficient [SC] = 0.209, 95%CI = 0.022-0.396), and between psychological job demands and work-family conflict (SC = 0.571, 95%CI = 0.520-0.622), but no statistically significant indirect effect was found. In overweight individuals, psychological job demands, skill discretion, and work-family conflict were positively associated with binge eating (SC = 0.099, 95%CI = 0.005-0.193; SC = 0.175, 95%CI = 0.062-0.288; and SC = 0.141, 95%CI = 0.077-0.206, respectively). Also, work-family conflict was observed to be a pathway on the associations of psychological job demands and decision authority with binge eating (SC = 0.084, 95%CI = 0.045-0.122; and SC = - 0.008, 95%CI = - 0.015- - 0.001, respectively).

Conclusions: Work-family conflict partly explains effects of high levels of psychological job demands and low levels of decision authority on binge eating among overweight individuals. Moreover, skill discretion is positively associated with binge eating, regardless of BMI category.

Keywords: Eating behavior; Eating disorder; Job stress; Obesity; Occupational stress; Psychological stress.

Plain language summary

Recent studies have found work-family conflict (i.e., incompatible work and family demands) to link between work issues and physical and mental health. Accordingly, this study investigated whether the relationship between job strain and binge eating is explained by work-family conflict, by body mass index (BMI), in a large sample of Brazilian civil servants. Overall, this study demonstrated that, among overweight individuals, excessive job demands and low decision authority (over what to do at work and how) contribute to binge eating by increasing work-family conflict. Also, excessive skill discretion at work, including opportunities to acquire and use specific job skills, is related to binge eating, regardless of BMI, which deserves further investigation. In conclusion, the results indicate that work-family conflict is a potential mechanism through which job strain can affect eating behavior among overweight individuals.