Which Jobs Have Heart Healthy Employees?

By Alex Berezow, PhD — Aug 12, 2016
The occupational groups community & social services, and transportation & material moving, had the greatest percentage of workers who met two or fewer cardiovascular health metrics. That means these workers may be at the highest risk of cardiovascular disease as compared to everyone else.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the #1 cause of death in the United States. This is the result of the overwhelming success of vaccines, sanitation, and various public health campaigns. No longer are Americans dying of diarrhea and diphtheria (the #3 and #10 causes of death in 1900, respectively). Instead, we are largely dying from so-called lifestyle diseases, like CVD.

Still, finding ways to delay the inevitable is in the public interest, not just in terms of improving the quality of life but also lowering the cost of healthcare. With those aims in mind, the CDC examined the association between occupation groups and risk factors for CVD in 21 states for its most recent issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

According to the CDC, the seven indicators (called cardiovascular health metrics, or CHMs) that reduce risk for CVD are "(1) not smoking, (2) being physically active, (3) having normal blood pressure, (4) having normal blood glucose, (5) being of normal weight, (6) having normal cholesterol levels, and (7) eating a healthy diet."

Any person who meets six or seven of these criteria is at a lower risk of developing CVD, but that applies to merely 2% of Americans. In this study, the CDC examined those individuals who met two or fewer of the CHMs, meaning that they are likely at an elevated risk of developing CVD. Then, they classified them based upon their occupational groups. (See chart below.)

Source: CDC Source: CDC


Displayed above, the occupational groups community & social services (14.6%) and transportation & material moving (14.3%) had the greatest percentage of workers who met two or fewer CHMs. (The average for all occupational groups was 9.6%.) That means these workers may be at the highest risk of CVD compared to everyone else. The farming, fishing, & forestry occupational group had the lowest percentage of workers (5.0%) meeting two or fewer CHMs, meaning these workers may be less likely to develop CVD compared to others.

There are a couple of key limitations. Using just the data from this study, it is not possible to determine the direction of causation. (That is, it is not possible to tell if certain occupations increase the risk of employees meeting fewer CHMs or if people who meet fewer CHMs self-select into different occupations.) Also, this data did not look at CVD directly, but instead assessed the presence or absence of risk factors. To determine if particular jobs increase the risk of CVD, a cohort study that follows workers over 20 to 30 years would be desirable.

Source: Shockey TM, Sussell AL, Odom EC. "Cardiovascular Health Status by Occupational Group — 21 States, 2013." MMWR 65 (31): 793–798. Published: 12-August-2016. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6531a1.


Alex Berezow, PhD

Former Vice President of Scientific Communications

Dr. Alex Berezow is a PhD microbiologist, science writer, and public speaker who specializes in the debunking of junk science for the American Council on Science and Health. He is also a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and a featured speaker for The Insight Bureau. Formerly, he was the founding editor of RealClearScience.

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