According to a new study of employees at a downsized company in upstate New York, people with higher job stress tend to be fatter than those with lower stress at work.
It was found that the stressed employees had a body mass index (BMI) that was about one unit heavier on average than that of their relaxed co-workers.
The findings are important in a time of widespread lay-offs, said Isabel Diana Fernandez, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
In the study, workers left behind at the downsized company often complained of more stress and more responsibilities.
"I think the message is that we have to take care of the employees who've remained," Live Science quoted Fernandez as saying.
For a long time, work stress has been linked with cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression, among other chronic health conditions.
The researchers wanted to investigate the combined effects of chronic job stress and short-term stress like the fear of unemployment.
As part of a larger workplace health program, the researchers measured the BMIs of 2,782 employees, mostly white, middle-aged men with college educations.
These employees had all kept their jobs through rounds of layoffs.
The results showed no association between short-term stress and weight, but chronic stress was a different story.
Workers with more responsibilities and less control had BMIs one point higher than their co-workers with low responsibility and high control, even after adjustments for known obesity risk factors like age, race and income.
However, the effect of stress on BMI disappeared when researchers factored in leisure-time physical activity and television watching.
Television was even worse for the waistline- People who watched TV for two to three hours a day had BMIs that were 2.37 units higher than people who watched TV for fewer than two hours.
The findings suggest that stress at work makes people likely to fall back on unhealthy behaviours at home, said Fernandez.
The study has been published in a recent issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.