Effect of Stress on Police Officers' Health to be Subject of Large-Scale Police Study

By Lois Baker

Release Date: November 20, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers from the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo have received $1.75 million from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct one of the first large-scale studies on how the stress of police work affects an officer's physical health.

A team headed by John Violanti, Ph.D., UB research associate professor of social and preventive medicine, will gather information on a number of stress and health indicators from 700 City of Buffalo police officers.

"Policing is a psychologically stressful work environment filled with danger, high demands, ambiguity in work encounters, human misery and exposure to death," said Violanti, himself a 23-year police veteran. "The study will provide important information for possible interventions to reduce the risk of disease in this stressful occupation."

The new study will focus on the relationship of stress and cardiovascular disease in police officers.

"Despite the large size of this workforce nationwide and the strain of this occupation, the police are understudied in terms of work influence on psychological well-being and physical health," said Violanti.

An earlier pilot study Violanti conducted in 2000 with members of the Buffalo police force showed that:

* Police as a group experienced higher job stress than a reference population

* Police officers over the age of 40 had an increased risk for arteriosclerosis.

* 72 percent of female officers, compared to 43 percent of male officers, had cholesterol levels higher than recommended by medical authorities.

* Police officers as a group had higher-than-average pulse rates and diastolic blood pressure.

* Officers over age 40 had the highest 10-year risk of a coronary event when compared to national standards.

The study will be conducted at the UB Center for Preventive Medicine. Researchers will test participants for fluctuations of the hormone cortisol, a biomarker for stress, and compare those fluctuations with artery blockage, elasticity and blood flow. They also will look at metabolic changes in individuals, such as body composition and bone density, in relation to cortisol changes, and will examine lifestyle and job factors that may be associated with cardiovascular disease.

"This project has the potential to serve as a model for future epidemiological investigations in police work, as well as establishing a base for future prospective inquiries into stress and disease," Violanti said.

Co-principal investigators, all from the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, are Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., professor and interim dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions; Joan Dorn, Ph.D., associate professor, and Jean Wactawski-Wende, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor.

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