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Road Hazards

Travel certainly takes its toll--but according to a recently published study, the effects on your health extend far beyond disrupting your sleep patterns.

The results of the Medical Insurance Claims Associated With International Business Travel study were drawn after analyzing the medical insurance claims of nearly 11,000 employees of Washington, DC-based World Bank. The organization, which lends to developing countries worldwide, conducted the study.

As predicted, the researchers confirmed that as frequency and duration of work-related international travel increased, so did the incidences of infectious and parasitic diseases. "The physical effects of travel are well-known," explains Dr. Bernhard Liese, who designed the study for World Bank.

But an unanticipated, even more significant finding surfaced: Frequent business travelers also experienced a rise in stress-related psychological disorders. "That was the strongest association we found," Liese says. "And that was something we hadn't expected."

The study's authors suspected jet lag as the logical cause, at least until they compared claims of employees crossing several time zones to those who did not leave their time zone at all--and found no significant difference between the two.

Follow-up interviews with participants revealed the real culprit. "Competing demands, multiple work pressures, separation from the family, and adjusting to the return home--this whole pool of issues seems to be more of the reason why people have psychological disorders," says Liese.

So what does it all mean? For starters, Liese points to preventive measures anyone can take--not just World Bank employees, who rack up an average of 250,000 travel days a year. Frequent travelers need to take it easy while on business trips and, upon returning home, should take the adjustment process more gradually. "These issues seem to be very prominent in other industries and other companies as well," Liese says. "There are considerable stresses attached to travel."

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Road Hazards.

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