Invited Commentary: The Search for Preventable Causes of Cardiovascular Disease—Whither Work?

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Abstract

The incidence and mortality of the major cardiovascular disorders vary sharply by occupation, but this is usually attributed to broad socioeconomic factors; the contributions of physical and psychosocial stressors at work remain obscure or controversial. Review of the ongoing studies of cardiovascular disease in the United States in this issue of the Journal demonstrates that few have either collected sufficient occupational data or used these data in published analyses to address this issue. There are compelling reasons to study this issue, starting with the sheer magnitude of the occupational gradient and disease prevalence. If only 5%–15% prove causally linked to preventable factors, an enormous disease-control opportunity would present itself. Moreover, the most suspect work factors—job stress, fine particulate dust, heat, noise, and shiftwork—are highly prevalent in the US workforce. Thankfully, there is evidence that many of the large ongoing studies are moving toward enhancing their occupational data and using what they have already collected. However, because of the complexity of studying these relations, the better solution is not retrofitting but designing studies in the future that combine de novo the conceptual frameworks and technical skills of occupational and social epidemiologists with those of more biologically focused investigators.

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