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Obesity in nurses linked to long shifts

August 17, 2012
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sleepFor nurses who work long hours or other "adverse work schedules," the risk of obesity is related to lack of opportunity for exercise and sleep, suggests a study in the August issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Alison M. Trinkoff, ScD, RN, and colleagues of University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, analyzed data on more than 1,700 female nurses. The study focused on factors related to obesity in nurses with "adverse work schedules" — long hours, high work burden, required on-call/overtime, and/or lack of rest.

Obesity-related factors were compared for approximately 700 nurses meeting these criteria versus 1,000 nurses with more favorable work schedules. About 55 percent of nurses in both groups were overweight or obese.

However, the risk factors for overweight or obesity differed between groups. In the group with adverse work schedules, nurses with obesity got less sleep, less restful sleep, and less exercise. They were also more likely to care for children or dependents.

In contrast, for nurses with favorable work schedules, obesity was linked to more unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol use; and more physical lifting of children or dependents. Factors reflecting job stress also affected obesity risk.

Long hours, shiftwork and other "nonstandard" work schedules have been linked to higher rates of obesity. 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," Dr Trinkoff and colleagues write. They 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, say Dr. Trinkoff and colleagues: "In particular, for nurses with unfavorable work schedules, organizations should support improving schedules and promote the ability to practice healthy behaviors."

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