November 28, 2006, Updated September 13, 2012

Our finding suggests that the potential damage to health may be greater than suspected and it may also include a risk of diabetes – Samuel Melamed People who suffer from job burnout may be prone to developing type 2 diabetes, according to a study of 677 mostly male middle-aged Israeli workers, according a new Israeli study.

The researchers claim that the findings suggest that chronic job burnout – the core components of which are emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, and cognitive weariness – might be a risk factor for the onset of type 2 diabetes in apparently healthy individuals.

High body mass index and obesity, smoking, and lack of physical exercise are among the current factors that increase the likelihood of developing diabetes. However, results from the study conduced by Dr. Samuel Melamed from Tel Aviv University indicate that job burnout could possibly be added to this already long list. The study findings appear in the November/December issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

“It has been suggested that stress plays a significant role in the (development) of type 2 diabetes,” lead author Melamed told Reuters Health. “Emotional burnout may pose risk to health. Earlier studies have found it to be associated with cardiovascular disease risk, sleep disturbances, impaired fertility and musculoskeletal pain.”

“Our finding suggests that the potential damage to health may be greater than suspected and it may also include a risk of diabetes,” Melamed said.

Melamed and colleagues looked at the experiences of 677 Israeli workers who were followed from 1998 to 2003. Nearly 77 percent of the workers were men, and their average age was about 43 years. Of the workers, 17 developed type 2 diabetes during the study period. The researchers found that people who experienced job burnout were 1.84 times more likely to become diabetic, even when factors like age, sex and obesity were taken into account.

The researchers looked at a smaller sample – 507 workers – and tried to statistically eliminate the possible effect of blood pressure levels. The result: The burned-out workers were then 4.32 times more likely to get type 2 diabetes.

“The burnout state is chronic in nature and it is associated with increased risk of diabetes in a magnitude similar to other risk factors such as high body mass index, smoking, and lack of physical exercise,” Melamed said, adding that job burnout may be only part of the picture.

“It is possible that these people are prone to diabetes because they can’t handle stress very well. Their coping resources may have been depleted not only due to job stress but also life stresses, such as stressful life events and daily hassles.”

According to Dr. Julio Wainstein, head of the Israel Diabetes Association and director of Diabetes research at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, the role of stress in causing diabetes cannot be eliminated. In fact, there have been cases of lawsuits filed against the Israeli Defense Forces, whereby soldiers blame the stress of army life on their development of diabetes. The IDF has recognized such a possible connection, and in a number of cases, provided compensation to the soldiers.

“The general public should be aware that emotional burnout, in addition to its impairing quality of life, may also constitute risk to health,” Melamed told Reuters.

“Knowledge and implementation of stress management techniques such as exercising, getting enough sleep, dieting, assertiveness training, may prevent burnout or reduce it before it becomes chronic, thereby reducing the potential risk of physical health impairment.”

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