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Am J Ind Med. 2009 Apr;52(4):331-40. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20687.

Upper-extremity musculoskeletal symptoms and physical health related quality of life among women employed in poultry processing and other low-wage jobs in northeastern North Carolina.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.



The purpose of this study was to evaluate the association between upper-extremity musculoskeletal symptoms (MS) and diminished physical health related quality of life (PHRQoL) in a population of women, mostly African-American working in poultry processing and other low-wage jobs in rural northeastern North Carolina.


A cross-sectional analysis was performed on baseline data of self-reported PHRQoL and musculoskeletal symptoms for 291 poultry processing workers and 299 community comparison women. Logarithmic binomial regression was performed to assess the relationship between moderate to severe MS on low PHRQoL.


Prevalence of poor PHRQoL was 35.5% among poultry processing workers, and 14.7% among community comparison group. Moderate to severe upper-extremity musculoskeletal symptoms were present in 34.4% of the poultry workers and 10.7% of the comparison group. After adjusting for age and other chronic conditions, moderate to severe musculoskeletal symptoms were associated with low PHRQoL in both groups. Although the observed effect was stronger among the comparison group (adjusted prevalence ratios (95% confidence interval): poultry workers = 1.89 (1.36, 2.64), community comparison = 4.26 (2.51, 7.24), the population attributable risk percent was similar (poultry workers = 28.9, community comparison = 31.3%)) due to the higher prevalence of moderate to severe symptoms in the poultry workers.


Significant upper-extremity musculoskeletal symptoms were associated with poor PHRQoL among both groups of women employed in low-wage jobs. Nationwide, poultry work is over-represented by minorities and immigrants. Though challenging, we need to search for ways to improve the conditions of these women as a matter of social justice.

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