UK teachers binge-eating to cope with work stress

But they eschew fags, booze and drugs

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Teachers are the third most stressed workers in Britain and almost half respond to the pressures of the classroom by binge-eating.

These are findings from a survey of more than 1,000 people, designed to measure the risks faced by different professions when it comes to suffering strokes.

Education ranked third highest out of 31 sectors for the numbers of employees who said their jobs caused them stress; the only jobs considered more pressured are recruitment and the law.

Teachers were more likely than most other workers to admit that they reacted to stress by eating more. This may partly be because comfort- eating is generally more common among women, who make up the bulk of the workforce in schools.

One teacher, who works as a school sports coordinator in England, told The TES that he had been surprised by how many overweight teachers he had met.

"Too much comfort eating, I suspect, in-between stressful parts of the teaching day - cakes and biscuits in the staffroom, for example," he said.

"We have teachers who are so overweight that they are afraid to go to the gym or play sports - and the stupid thing is that the kids know it."

The survey, carried out for the Stroke Association, also found that workers in schools were more likely to respond to stress by crying and losing sleep. But they were significantly less likely to resort to drinking, smoking and drugs, possibly because of the difficulty of indulging in such activities in schools.

Only 2 per cent of teachers took drugs because of stress, while 16 per cent smoked more and 29 per cent drank more.

The Teacher Support Network, which provides free counselling to teachers, said the findings of the survey tallied with the messages that it received from school staff.

Hannah Essex, the network's head of communications, said: "These statistics are a positive reflection on teachers' ability to avoid the pitfalls of some of the most damaging responses to stress, namely smoking, drinking or recreational drugs.

"Nevertheless, we would worry if significant proportions of teachers are dealing with stress through internalising the issue, such as by eating excessively."

Despite the aggravations thatteachers face, they were also less likely than most other professions to become angry under pressure.

The Stroke Association, which produced the report with funding from the engineering company Siemens, said unhealthy responses to stress, including over-eating and smoking, led to high blood pressure, which is the single biggest risk factor for a stroke.

Joe Korner, the Stroke Association's director of external affairs, said: "This is a major issue for people of all ages, especially those working in stressful occupations."

Siemens will be raising money for the charity in October through a national sponsored rowing contest.

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