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Demanding Work Schedules for Nurses May Increase Obesity Risk

Aug. 7, 2012
Busy nurses working demanding shifts might have a more difficult time obtaining adequate sleep, rest and exercise – factors that can increase obesity risk.

Nurses who face long work shifts, overtime, on-call or other trying work schedules could be at a higher risk of obesity, according to researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore.

In a study of over 1,700 female nurses, researchers studied obesity factors in nurses with “adverse work schedules.” About 700 of the nurses in the study met the criteria for adverse work schedules (such as working long shifts, overtime, required on-call time) and 1,000 nurses had more favorable schedules.

While approximately 55 percent of nurses in both groups were either overweight or obese, the risk factors for obesity differed between the two groups. Those nurses who worked more “adverse” schedules got less sleep, less exercise, and less restful sleep. In addition, they were more likely to care for children or dependents.

Obesity in nurses who worked more favorable schedules, meanwhile, were more often linked to unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol use.

Obesity Prevention

Long hours, shift work and other "nonstandard" work schedules have been linked to higher rates of obesity in other studies. For the many nurses who work such adverse schedules, special attention may be needed to prevent obesity and protect health.

"Adverse work schedules may be an overriding work-related factor for nurse obesity," wrote lead researcher Alison M. Trinkoff, ScD, RN. Trinkoff and colleagues believe that in addition to lack of opportunities for healthy behaviors, nurses with adverse schedules may have difficulty accessing healthy foods.

These nurses may need extra support to prevent obesity and its adverse health effects, explained researchers. “In particular, for nurses with unfavorable work schedules, organizations should support improving schedules and promote the ability to practice healthy behaviors,” they concluded.

The study appeared in the August issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

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