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Researchers suggest diet of shift workers is an occupational health hazard

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
PLoS Medicine: Shift workers poor diet is an occupational health hazard

An editorial published in this month's PLoS Medicine suggests shift work should be considered an occupational health hazard because poor diet, obesity rates and increased risk of type 2 diabetes shown in past studies, especially among health care workers.

According to the authors, shift work is prevalent, especially among health care workers, with 15 to 20 percent of the population in Europe and the U.S. engaged in some sort of various work schedules.

The editorial specifically cites studies published in the journal that highlights the rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes among nurses in the United States.

But the authors, Dr Virginia Barbour, chief editor of the journal PLoS Medicine and her fellow editors aren’t blaming employees for unhealthy eating, or the work itself.

Instead, they suggest junk food is easily accessible to people who work shifts and healthy food options are limited, though other factors, such as disruption of Circadian rhythm could also contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes among shift workers are also proposed.

The suggestion that shift work leads to poor diet is noted by the authors from blogs that offer ways to eat healthier and “other evidence” that shift workers struggle with a healthy diet.

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The authors write, “As the world of work becomes increasingly 24 hour, shift work will become more common. And if the data from this and other studies are to be taken at face value, shift work has the potential to accelerate the progression of the global epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

Obviously, diet is only one component in the pathway to diabetes, but, unlike the metabolic consequences of a deranged circadian rhythm it is potentially amenable to easy intervention.”

What they propose is that employers lead the way toward helping the public consume healthier foods – an impetus that is in place by policy makers already. They even suggest workplaces that employ shift workers should be “required” by the government to improve the health habits of their employees.

"Governments need to legislate to improve the habits of consumers and take specific steps to ensure that it is easier and cheaper to eat healthily than not," they write.

The authors cite the Cleveland Clinic that provides employees with incentives for improving their health through exercise and smoking cessation.

The authors concluded that unhealthy eating among shift workers should be considered an occupational health hazard that may need government intervention to ensure employers are taking steps to improve employee health.

"Poor Diet in Shift Workers: A New Occupational Health Hazard?"
PLoS Med 8(12): e1001152. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001152
Virginia Barbour et al.
December 27, 2011

Image credit: Wikimedia commons



Maybe technology has lead to less activity on the job, especially in hospitals. When I worked shifts in the hospital I was always on the go. I never sat down and I didn't gain weight, and I was always ready for a food break. It would be interesting if that was also studied.