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$2.7 Million Grant Funds Study on Effects of Long-Term Stress on Police Officers

By Lois Baker

Release Date: December 16, 2010

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John Violanti has received NIOSH funding to study how job stress affects police officers over time and to look at specific causes of stress.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Police work is one of the most stressful jobs in society, but little is known about the effects of this stress on an officer's long-term health.

John Violanti, PhD, professor of social and preventive medicine in the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions, hopes to fill this information void through a five-year $2.7 million grant from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The research will study how job stress affects officers over time and will provide information on specific causes of stress on police. The findings will be used to develop prevention programs for officers.

"Certain characteristics of police work, such as shift work, long work hours, high demands and exposure to trauma have been associated with increased levels of psychological stress and, in some cases, with adverse cardiovascular outcomes," says Violanti.

"An observational study conducted over a period of time can provide more convincing evidence that these workplace stressors lead to development of adverse physiological and psychological health outcomes."

Violanti and colleagues will conduct a five-year follow-up of approximately 465 police officers for whom baseline data and a research protocol already have been established. Violanti has published several papers based on this baseline data.

The new study will examine physiological and psychological measures of stress, and evaluate potential associations of these measures with subclinical markers of early signs of cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

Markers of disease include blood pressure, laboratory measurement of lipids, glucose and insulin, and variability of heart rate to assess autonomic nervous system function. Researchers will conduct ultrasound imaging studies to measure carotid artery wall thickness, which indicates the risk of atherosclerosis, and reactivity in the brachial artery, the major blood vessel of the upper arm, to determine blood vessel function.

Officers also will undergo dual-energy x-ray absorptiometric (DXA) to measure the composition of lean muscle tissue and bone density.

In addition, the researchers will examine psychosocial factors known to be detrimental to health, such as perceived stress, and factors known to be protective, including personal resiliency and social support.

"Data acquired from this research may contribute to a better understanding of how exposure to stressors over time may provide early indicators of cardiovascular and metabolic abnormalities," says Violanti. "NIOSH data shows that 40 percent of workers describe their job as very or extremely stressful. Given the likelihood that stress is relatively common in the workplace, addressing situations that may be associated with stress could benefit a large proportion of the working population."

Jean Wactawski-Wende, PhD, UB professor, associate chair of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and vice provost for strategic initiatives, and Joan Dorn, PhD, professor and chair of the UB Department of Exercise and Nutrition Science, are study co-investigators.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.