Metabolic syndrome found in nearly 25% of workers, study finds
Affecting approximately 69 million U.S. adults, metabolic syndrome has major health and economic consequences. Metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least three of five disease risk factors -- large waist circumference (more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women), high triglyceride levels, reduced levels of high-density cholesterol (HDL or "good" cholesterol), high blood pressure, and high glucose levels. People with metabolic syndrome are at high risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
The study, published in the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzed health risk appraisal data on 5,512 employees of a large financial services corporation. The researchers, led by Dr. Wayne N. Burton of the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that 22.6 percent of the workers had metabolic syndrome.
In the workplace sample, men and women had similar rates of metabolic syndrome although men had a higher average number of risk factors. Researchers said that as the number of risk factors increased, so did the rate of lifestyle health risks, such as obesity, low physical activity, high stress, and smoking. Workers with metabolic syndrome were also more likely to rate their own health as fair to poor, compared to workers with fewer risk factors.
Workers with more risk factors missed more workdays because of illness. The percentage of workers with three or more sick days in the previous year was 25 percent for those with no risk factors to 39 percent for those with all five risk factors.
Researchers said metabolic syndrome was not linked to increased "presenteeism" -- days the employee was at work but performing at less than full capacity because of health reasons. The study found that there was a trend toward higher rates of short-term disability, but it was not significant.
Burton said he was surprised to find that metabolic syndrome did not affect on-the-job productivity or short-term disability. Researchers speculated that the major consequences of metabolic syndrome have not yet been realized in their relatively young study sample (average age 41 years).
"This is encouraging in that employers may still have time to provide employees with the education and tools they need to improve their health risks before experiencing the consequences of diabetes or heart disease," Burton said.
Burton said the results draw attention to the high rate and impact of metabolic syndrome among U.S. workers. Researchers called for further studies to assess the impact of metabolic syndrome in the workforce, as well as to evaluate programs to identify and treat these high-risk workers.
December 4, 2008
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