Hugo Westerlund

Hugo Westerlund


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Telephone 08-553 789 46
Visiting address Frescati Hagväg 16 A
Room 333
Postal address Stressforskningsinstitutet 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Hugo Westerlund is Professor of Epidemiology as well as Director and Head of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University. He investigates how social and psychological exposures across the life course impact on health, mortality and quality of life. A recurrent theme has been labour market participation, and lately a main focus has been on ageing workers and retirement, as well as the prerequisites and consequences of extended working lives. Hugo works mainly with large, longitudinal cohort studies from several different countries, including the French GAZEL, British Whitehall II, and Swedish SLOSH and WOLF studies. He has a large network of leading social epidemiologists and is currently leading a multi-national project on determanints of healthy life expectancy as well as a Forte financed research programme on healthy and productive work in later life. He is also engaged in projects about open plan office environments, mental health development in early life, risk factors for sickness absence and presenteeism, and validation of questionnaires to assess the psychosocial work environment. An overarching ambition is to provide better evidence about causal relationships between modifiable environmental exposures and health outcomes, increasingly taking moderating factors such as personality and genetics into account.



A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • Aram Seddigh, Erik Berntson, Hugo Westerlund.

    Office design and personality traits have both separately been show to affect indicators of job performance.  In this study we investigated the joint effect of office designs (individual office rooms, shared rooms, flex offices, and different sizes of open-plan office environments) and individual differences in personality, measured by the Big Five personality traits and stimulus screening ability, on self-rated indicators of employees’ performance. We collected data from 5 different organizations in both the private and public sectors and conducted 6 separate MANCOVAs to study the interaction effect of office type and individual differences. Our data suggest that agreeableness is the only trait that interacts with office type. People who work in medium-sized open-plan offices, large open-plan offices and flex offices report higher distraction if they score high on agreeableness. People who work in small and medium-sized open-plan offices report higher job satisfaction if they are highly agreeable. Furthermore, the results of this study indicate that except for emotional stability and stimulus screening, office type, and not individual differences, is the strongest predictor of performance. 

  • 2018. Torbjörn Åkerstedt (et al.). Frontiers in Psychology 9

    Fatigue is prevalent in the population and usually linked to sleep problems, and both are related to age. However, previous studies have been cross-sectional. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the trajectories of sleep and fatigue across 8 years of aging in a large group (N > 8.000) of individuals. A second purpose was to investigate whether fatigue trajectories would differ between age groups, and whether different trajectories of fatigue would be reflected in a corresponding difference in trajectories for sleep variables. Results from mixed model analyses showed that fatigue decreased across 8 years in all age groups, while sleep problems increased, non-restorative sleep decreased, weekend sleep duration decreased, and weekday sleep duration showed different patterns depending on age. Furthermore, the larger the decrease in fatigue, the larger was the increase in sleep duration across years, the lower was the increase of sleep problems, and the larger was the decrease of non-restorative sleep. The results suggest that aging has positive effects on fatigue and sleep and that these changes are linked.

  • 2018. Jaana I. Halonen (et al.). Pain 159 (8), 1477-1483

    Existing evidence of an association between effort-reward imbalance (ERI) at work and musculoskeletal pain is limited, preventing reliable conclusions about the magnitude and direction of the relation. In a large longitudinal study, we examined whether the onset of ERI is associated with subsequent onset of musculoskeletal pain among those free of pain at baseline, and vice versa, whether onset of pain leads to onset of ERI. Data were from the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health (SLOSH) study. We used responses from 3 consecutive study phases to examine whether exposure onset between the first and second phases predicts onset of the outcome in the third phase (N = 4079). Effort-reward imbalance was assessed with a short form of the ERI model. Having neck-shoulder and low back pain affecting life to some degree in the past 3 months was also assessed in all study phases. As covariates, we included age, sex, marital status, occupational status, and physically strenuous work. In the adjusted models, onset of ERI was associated with onset of neck-shoulder pain (relative risk [RR] 1.51, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.21-1.89) and low back pain (RR 1.21, 95% CI 0.97-1.50). The opposite was also observed, as onset of neck-shoulder pain increased the risk of subsequent onset of ERI (RR 1.36, 95% CI 1.05-1.74). Our findings suggest that when accounting for the temporal order, the associations between ERI and musculoskeletal pain that affects life are bidirectional, implying that interventions to both ERI and pain may be worthwhile to prevent a vicious cycle.

  • 2018. Kristiina Rajaleid (et al.). Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease

    Low birth weight has been shown to be related to increased risk of depression later in life - but the evidence is not conclusive. We examined the association of size at birth with repeatedly measured depressive symptoms in 947 individuals from the Northern Swedish Cohort, a community-based age-homogeneous cohort born in 1965, and followed with questionnaires between ages 16 and 43 (participation rate above 90% in all the surveys). Information on birth size was retrieved from archived birth records. Length of gestation was known for a subsample of 512 individuals (54%). We studied the association of birth weight and ponderal index with self-reported depressive symptoms at ages 16, 21, 30 and 43; with the life-course average of depressive symptoms score and with longitudinal trajectories of depressive symptoms retrieved by latent class growth analysis. Socioeconomic background, mental illness or alcohol problems of a parent, exposure to social adversities in adolescence and prematurity were accounted for in the analyses. We did not find any relationship between weight or ponderal index at birth and our measure of depressive symptoms between ages 16 and 43 in a series of different analyses. Adjustment for length of gestation did not alter the results. We conclude that size at birth is not associated with later-life depressive symptoms score in this cohort born in the mid-1960s in Sweden. The time and context need to be taken into consideration in future studies.

  • 2018. Mika Kivimäki (et al.). Alzheimer's & Dementia 14 (5), 601-609

    Introduction: Higher midlife body mass index (BMI) is suggested to increase the risk of dementia, but weight loss during the preclinical dementia phase may mask such effects.

    Methods: We examined this hypothesis in 1,349,857 dementia-free participants from 39 cohort studies. BMI was assessed at baseline. Dementia was ascertained at follow-up using linkage to electronic health records (N = 6894). We assumed BMI is little affected by preclinical dementia when assessed decades before dementia onset and much affected when assessed nearer diagnosis.

    Results: Hazard ratios per 5-kg/m2 increase in BMI for dementia were 0.71 (95% confidence interval = 0.66-0.77), 0.94 (0.89-0.99), and 1.16 (1.05-1.27) when BMI was assessed 10 years, 10-20 years, and >20 years before dementia diagnosis.

    Conclusions: The association between BMI and dementia is likely to be attributable to two different processes: a harmful effect of higher BMI, which is observable in long follow-up, and a reverse-causation effect that makes a higher BMI to appear protective when the follow-up is short.

Show all publications by Hugo Westerlund at Stockholm University

Last updated: January 17, 2019

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