- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Stay-at-home dads and others in nontraditional positions have a greater risk of heart disease and death than those in more conventional roles or occupations, according to a study presented this week at the American Heart Association's Asia Pacific Scientific Forum in Honolulu.
The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and released Wednesday, was conducted to determine whether occupational stress or strain is related to heart attack and death.
Researchers did not find that high levels of job strain defined as high job demands combined with low job control are associated with death or heart disease. But they were surprised to find a link between heart disease the nation's No. 1 killer and jobs or social roles that are not the norm.
For instance, they found that men who consider themselves as househusbands most of their adult lives are 82 percent more likely to have a shorter life span than men who work outside the home. The study controlled for other factors such as age, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, smoking and diabetes.
Likewise, the researchers found that women who work in positions commanding a great deal of authority are three times more likely to have heart disorders than women who do not. However, these discrepancies in heart problems were not due to household responsibilities, number of children, anxiety, tension, depression, hostility or anger, the researchers said.
"These findings may indicate that people who perform work or social roles incongruent with what is socially expected suffer greater heart disease and death. Perhaps those men and women on the cutting edge of social norms experience negative health consequences," Elaine D. Eaker of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises in Chili, Wis., the study's lead investigator, said in a statement.
But Ms. Eaker said in an interview that the data used in the research were collected in the 1980s. So roles that were considered unconventional at that time may no longer be viewed that way and "may no longer be high risk," she said.
"There is no reason for people to leave their jobs or go into new jobs because of these findings," Ms. Eaker added.
She said she is uncertain whether roles such as "househusband" or a woman in authority continue to be viewed as being outside the norm.
"In fact, I kind of doubt they still are," said Ms. Eaker, who is not sure what kind of positions in contemporary society would fit that definition and perhaps put people at higher risk for heart disease and death.
But she suggested that people in such positions "join support groups" to help them cope.
The research was an offshoot of the Framingham Offspring Study, which includes descendants of participants in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study begun in 1948. That study, still under way, follows a representative sample of 5,209 adult residents of Framingham, Mass., and their offspring to assess their cardiac history.
According to Ms. Eaker, previous research shows that occupational strain might be related to the development of heart disease. So she and her colleagues included an analysis of occupational characteristics, including job strain, in the Framingham Offspring Study surveys.
Participants in this ancillary research included 1,769 men and 1,913 women, ages 18 to 77, who completed psychological surveys and were followed for 10 years for incidence of heart disease and death.
Psychosocial variables analyzed in the research included income, education, number of children, marital status, employment and housewife/househusband status, work changes, promotion, bringing work home, housework strain and achieving desired income.
The study also found that men with lower incomes and a lower educational level had an increased risk of heart disease and death. Men with personal incomes of less than $10,000 per year had twice the risk of death compared with men with incomes of $50,000 or more per year. Such findings are often attributed to a poorer person's limited access to health care.

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