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Working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease.

A new study has revealed that long working hours are increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke. It also showed that people living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region – which includes China, Japan and Australia – were the most affected. 

The study, conducted by World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO), drew data from 194 countries between 2000 and 2016 and has found that long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000. 

Looking more closely, globally, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016 as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%. Most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years old, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years old. Male (72%) is also more prone to early death caused by long working hours. 

Notably, many of the deaths occurred much later in life. 

The study led to a conclusion that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization.

As the study did not include the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from WHO said that the pandemic is exacerbating the situation as many workers are expected to increase their working time. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

"Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease,” he added.

Currently, the number of people working long hours stands at 9% of the total population globally.

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