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The Worst (and Best) Jobs for Your Health

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Police officers and firefighters are at the greatest risk for heart disease.

  • Certain professions put you at risk of serious diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart diseases.
  • Police officers and firefighters over the age of 45 are the highest-risk group for medical problems related to the job.
  • Fitness instructors, healthcare workers and STEM professionals are among the healthiest workers in the world.

Police officers and firefighters over the age of 45 appear to have more risk factors for heart disease and stroke than people in any other profession, according to research. A study from the American Heart Association found that 90% were likely to be overweight or obese, 77% did not have ideal total cholesterol levels, and 35% had high blood pressure.

Worker health issues

To assess worker health, the researchers examined workers over the age of 45 for seven modifiable risk factors: blood pressure, body mass index, total cholesterol, blood sugar, physical activity, smoking and diet quality. Participants' health in each of the areas was scored as ideal, intermediate or poor.

Workers earned ideal scores if, without medicines, their blood pressure readings were lower than 120/80 mm Hg, their total cholesterol was below 200 mg/dL, and/or their blood glucose was lower than 100 mg/dL while fasting or 140 mg/dL without fasting. Besides nonsmoking status, other ideal traits were a BMI below 25 and engagement in intense, break-a-sweat activity four or more times a week, including at work.

"Older U.S. workers are not destined by age to have a poor cardiovascular health profile, but some workers have more barriers to achieving ideal levels than others," said Leslie MacDonald, the study's lead researcher and a senior scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Centers for Disease Control, in a statement.

Health of service professionals

Employees in service occupations – including food preparation, building maintenance and groundskeeping, cleaning services, and personal care delivery – showed the second highest risk for heart disease and stroke. The research found that this group of workers had the worst diet profile, with nearly 80% having poor eating habits. [Read related article: Get Moving! 3 Ways to Stay Active in the Office]

Sales workers and office and administrative support workers also have high risk for future heart disease. The study revealed that 69% of sales employees did not have ideal cholesterol, while 82% of office and administrative support workers did not get enough physical activity.

Those working in management or as white-collar professionals had better cardiovascular health than employees in any other job. One-third had ideal body mass, 75% were at least moderately active, and only 6% were smokers.

That doesn't mean workers in these jobs excel in all areas: Nearly three-quarters of white-collar professionals employed in business and finance have poor eating habits.

Healthier professions

Healthcare practitioners – as well as employees in arts, entertainment, sports and media jobs – also rated well in cardiovascular health.

There are several reasons why certain occupations are more prone to health problems than others. Certain conditions, such as long work hours and low job control, have previously been linked to metabolic and behavioral risk factors, which may contribute to the differences found in the study, the authors said. Job stress may also deplete workers' resolve to prioritize their health, MacDonald said.

There are several small steps all workers, regardless of occupation, can take to improve their health, such as using lunch breaks to go for walks, parking farther away from destinations and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. MacDonald said that, over time, these small steps will accumulate into improved health.

"It's important to take small steps and not get overwhelmed or discouraged," she said.

The researchers evaluated 5,566 employed men and women who did not have a history of heart disease or stroke at the beginning of the study. They classified jobs using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics occupation groups, and accounted for differences among the groups in age, race, and sex and whether workers lived in the Southeast, where stroke rates run high.

Other worst jobs for your health

There are also jobs that are bad for your health because of the inherent risk associated with the career. For instance, dentists and hygienists are considered high risk due to the nature of their professions. They are exposed to contaminants, viruses, and bacteria on a daily basis and must take precautions to protect themselves against transmittable diseases. Flight attendants face a similar risk, since they work in enclosed spaces where germs can easily travel between passengers.

Blue-collar workers such as mechanics, wastewater treatment professionals and boiler operators also risk their health on a daily basis. For one thing, they may be at risk of toxic exposure. Secondly, on-the-job hazards are linked to higher accident rates. 

Other best jobs for your health

Any type of job that helps you focus on your health and well-being will keep your body and mind well. As an example, fitness instructors are some of the healthiest professionals due to their exercise regimens.

Many individuals who work in tech are also among the healthiest. One reason for this is that STEM workers are often employed by tech companies that have progressive ways of thinking. These companies prioritize worker health by focusing on production goals instead of hours worked.

Image Credit: NicoElNino / Getty Images
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