Working long hours can cause women to indulge in unhealthy behaviours such as snacking, smoking and drinking too much caffeine, says a study that found that men and women respond very differently to long work periods.
Women who work long hours eat more high fat and high sugar snacks, exercise less, drink more caffeine and, if smokers, smoke more than their male colleagues, a research study found. On the flip side, for men, working longer hours, it has no negative impact on exercise, caffeine intake or smoking.
While women might adopt unhealthy behaviours in response to working long hours, researchers believe that there is at least one beneficial effect. The one clear positive impact of working long hours for both sexes is that alcohol consumption is reduced.
Stress disrupts people's normal eating habits. It causes people to opt for unhealthy high fat and high sugar snacks in preference to healthier food choices. Also people under stress eat less than usual in their main meals including their vegetable intake but shift their preference to high fat/high sugar snacks instead.
As part of the study, the researchers examined the stress caused by certain events (giving a presentation at work, missing a deadline, losing your keys) and the effect on food consumption. The findings showed that those who experienced one or more such hassles during the day consumed significantly more between-meal snacks than usual.
It was also found that mental rather than physical stress leads people to snack. To establish this, the researchers categorized daily hassles into four types: ego threatening (e.g. giving a presentation), interpersonal (e.g. an argument), work-related (e.g. a meeting with your boss) and physical (e.g. a severe headache). While ego-threatening, interpersonal, and work-related hassles lead people to snack more, physical stressors actually lead people to snack less.
It seems that certain types of people are more likely to snack than others. Those most at risk of snacking under stress are best described as 'emotional eaters. These individuals have higher levels of vulnerability and tend to turn to food as an escape from self-awareness.
Source: Economic & Social Research Council