Job stress and shift work have a lot more to do with obesity among nurses than previously thought, according to a study by the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
Survey data from 2,103 female nurses revealed that nurses with long work hours were significantly more likely to be obese compared with underweight or normal weight nurses. The obese nurses also reported having jobs requiring less physical exertion and less movement.
Previous to the study, not much was known scientifically about the prevalence of nurses' obesity and of the potential relationship between their work and their weight, says lead researcher Kihye Han, PhD, RN, postdoctoral fellow at the School.
Han says the study results provide timely evidence-based information for nurse executives and administrators who may consider rethinking their nurse scheduling. "Long work hours and shift work adversely affect quantity and quality of sleep, which often interferes with adherence to healthy behavior and increases obesity," she concludes.
The study, published in the Journal of Nursing Administration (volume 41, issue 11), is the latest in a series from the School of Nursing that together show adverse effects from unfavorable nursing schedules--effects not only on nurses' health but also on hospitals and patient care outcomes.
One of the previous studies by the same research team in the School of Nursing found that, along with long work hours, the work schedule component most frequently related to patient mortality was lack of time off from the job. Another study revealed evidence to challenge the common 12-hour nursing shift, which can result in sleep deprivation, health problems, and a greater chance for patient-care errors. In still another article, researchers described barriers that keep nursing executives from moving away from the practice, and offered strategies to help mitigate the possible negative effects of 12-hour shifts.
The obesity study suggests that educational interventions about sleep hygiene and strategies for adapting work schedules should be offered by hospitals and other health care institutions. Han adds that a favorable organizational climate that supports napping in the workplace can help prevent work-related sleep deprivation, reduce fatigue, and increase energy for healthy lifestyle behaviors.
About 55 percent of the nurses surveyed were obese. "Considering that more than half of nurses are overweight or obese, increasing availability of healthy food and providing sufficient time to consume it may reduce the risk of obesity and future health problems," says Han.