Scand J Work Environ Health 2021;47(8):565-581    pdf full text

doi:10.5271/sjweh.3982 | Published online: 15 Sep 2021, Issue date: 01 Nov 2021

Associations of working conditions and chronic low-grade inflammation among employees: a systematic review and meta-analysis

by Kaltenegger HC, Becker L, Rohleder N, Nowak D, Weigl M

Objectives Chronic low-grade inflammation has been identified as a key pathway linking stress experience to human health. However, systematic evaluations on the relationship of work stress and immune function are scarce and predominantly based on cross-sectional studies. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies on associations of working conditions and inflammatory biomarkers.

Methods In line with our previously established study protocol and the PRISMA-guidelines, we systematically searched electronic databases for prospective studies on working conditions as well as workplace interventions and inflammatory markers in employees. We classified studies (by design, type of exposure/intervention, outcome) and performed rigorous risk-of-bias assessments. Studies were summarized qualitatively, and a meta-analysis was conducted.

Results We identified 23 eligible studies (N=16 432) with a broad scope of working conditions and inflammatory markers. For interventional designs, we differentiated between individual-directed/behavioral (including physical and mental) and organization-directed/structural interventions. Workplace physical exercise interventions were associated with a decrease in C-reactive protein (k=5; d=-0.61; P<0.001). For other workplace interventions, ie, mental and organizational/structural, results were inconclusive. Concerning observational studies, dimensions of the job demand–control(–support) model were most frequently investigated, and results showed weak – if any – associations with inflammatory markers.

Conclusions The research base was heterogeneous and high-level evidence was limited. More prospective studies are needed with broader consideration of work stressors and inflammatory markers. For practical occupational health management, exercise interventions are effective measures to reduce chronic low-grade inflammation.

This article refers to the following texts of the Journal: 2010;36(2):96-108  2014;40(1):5-18  2015;41(5):491-503  2020;46(1):19-31  2021;47(3):200-207
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