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Role of psychosocial work factors in the relation between becoming a caregiver and changes in health behaviour: results from the Whitehall II cohort study
  1. Nadya Dich1,
  2. Jenny Head2,
  3. Naja Hulvej Rod1
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  3. 3Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nadya Dich, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 5, Postboks 2099, Copenhagen 1014, Denmark; nadi{at}


Background The present study tested the effects of becoming a caregiver combined with adverse working conditions on changes in health behaviours.

Methods Participants were 5419 British civil servants from the Whitehall II cohort study who were not caregivers at baseline (phase 3, 1991–1994). Psychosocial work factors were assessed at baseline. Phase 4 questionnaire (1995–1996) was used to identify participants who became caregivers to an aged or disabled relative. Smoking, alcohol consumption and exercise were assessed at baseline and follow-up (phase 5, 1997–1999).

Results Those who became caregivers were more likely to increase frequency of alcohol consumption, but only if they also reported low decision latitude at work (OR= 1.65, 95% CI 1.15 to 2.37 compared with non-caregivers with average decision latitude), or belonged to low occupational social class (OR=2.38, 95% CI 1.17 to 4.78 compared with non-caregivers of high occupational social class). Caregivers were more likely to quit smoking if job demands were low (OR=2.92; 95% CI 1.07 to 7.92 compared with non-caregivers with low job demands), or if social support at work was high (OR=2.99, 95% CI 1.01 to 8.86 compared with caregivers with average social support). There was no effect of caregiving on reducing exercise below recommended number of hours per week, or on drinking above recommended number of units per week, regardless of working conditions.

Conclusions The findings underscore the importance of a well-balanced work environment as a resource for people exposed to increased family demands.

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  • Contributors ND and NHR contributed to the conception of the study. All authors contributed to the design of the study and interpretation of the findings. ND performed statistical analyses and drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to the revision of the manuscript and approved the final version.

  • Funding This research was supported by the Danish National Work Environment Foundation (grant no. 12-2013-03). Jenny Head is partially funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/K01336X/1, ES/L002892/1).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Joint University College London and University College London Hospital Committees on the Ethics of Human Research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement All data from Whitehall II study are available to other researchers. Please read more on the data sharing policies here:

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