Job Loss Fears May Raise Asthma Risk

September 25, 2014
Aimee Simone, Assistant Editor

Those who fear they will lose their jobs have an increased risk of developing incident asthma.

Those who fear they will lose their jobs have an increased risk of developing incident asthma.

Stress over potential job loss could lead to adult-onset asthma, the results of a German study suggest.

Previous research deemed perceived job insecurity a risk factor for lifestyle behaviors related to poor health outcomes, including smoking, obesity, and physiological stress. The current study, published online September 22, 2014, in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analyzed the relationship between job insecurity and incident asthma in Germany following the economic recession in 2008, when perceptions of job insecurity increased dramatically.

The study relied on data from the more than 7000 participants of the 2009 and 2011 German Socio-Economic Panel, which included individuals who were employed and did not have asthma in 2009. Participants rated the likelihood that they would lose their jobs within the next 2 years in 10% increments on a scale of 0% to 100%.

Respondents who rated the probability of job loss above 50% were considered to have high job insecurity. Then, in 2011, the participants were asked if they had ever been diagnosed with asthma.

Those with high job insecurity were younger, had lower levels of education and monthly income, and were more likely to be single than those with no or low job insecurity. In addition, those with high job insecurity were more likely to smoke and have physician-diagnosed depression, and were less likely to engage in regular exercise or have permanent contracts.

Overall, 105 new cases of adult-onset asthma occurred from 2009 to 2011. After adjusting for lifestyle, demographic, and other factors, the results indicated that the risk of developing incident asthma increased by 24% for every 25% increase in the perceived threat of job loss. Additionally, participants who reported high job insecurity had a 60% increased risk of asthma compared with those who had no or low job insecurity.

Although the study was the first to establish a relationship between fears of job loss and incident asthma, the findings were consistent with previous research.

“This is consistent with epidemiological studies, which have shown that psychological stress and, in particular, work-related stress may be risk factors for new-onset asthma,” the study authors wrote. “Our findings also provide a possible explanation for the increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms during the recent economic crisis in the United Kingdom.”