In America’s hospitals, nurses are the first in line providing patient care for the sick and injured. According to ABC News, a 2012 study completed at the University of Maryland’s School of Nursing uncovered that 55 percent of the 2,103 women nurses studied were clinically obese.
Another study, national in scope returned an almost identical conclusion, 54 percent of nurses surveyed had body mass index recordings placing them in the obese group.
The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported in their newsletter Newswise, that contributing factors to obesity in the nursing profession were lack of sleep, lack of exercise and poor eating habits.
At first glance, it would seem that the factors correlated mostly with nurses working adverse work schedules.
Using the data collected from the University of Maryland’s study, researchers focused on 700 nurses with adverse work schedules – overnight shifts, overtime, long hours, high work burden, and lack of rest. Researchers compared obesity factors to nearly 1,000 nurses working more favorable, less stressful work schedules.
Both groups have an obesity rate of 55 percent!
However, the risk factors facing each group of nurses for becoming obese are different.
Risk Factors for Nurses Working Adverse Schedules
This group got less sleep, when they did sleep it was less restful, and they had less exercise. In addition, after work they were more likely to take care of small children or dependent adult family members.
Risk Factors for Nurses Working Good Schedules
In this group, obesity linked to the practice of unhealthy behaviors that include:
- Alcohol use;
- Lifting of children or dependents; and
- Job stress not related to shift.
What Work-related Stress Face Nurses?
The need for cost control in hospitals has led to many facilities having chronic problems of understaffing. Nurses working adverse shifts in these institutions often develop work related stress that helps pave the way to obesity. These stressors include:
- Concerns about leadership/nursing management;
- Professional conflict;
- Low job influence; and
- High emotional labor.
The Effect of Nurse Obesity on Patient Care
Obesity likely affects how a nurse cares for a patient. In addition, the conditions that set the stage for a nurse becoming obese does too.
One feature of an adverse shift is the length of time at work. Many obese nurses who work adverse shifts have sleep problems; they do not enough sleep and sleep that is not restful. These nurses come to work intending to do a wonderful job of patient care. Yet, sleep deprivation can easily lead patient-care errors. Obese nurses develop health problems also that are harmful to patient care.
The likelihood of obesity affecting patient care suggests that employers take steps to intervene, educationally and through policy changes.
The amount of diseases that obesity leads to is staggering. They include:
- Heart disease;
- Breathing problems;
- High blood pressure;
- Gallbladder disease and gallstones; and
- Sleep apnea.
Hospitals are institutions jammed with bureaucracy. Even so, certain policy changes are easy. Hospitals should make sure that the overnight shift has access to healthy foods. Shift worker schedules should have rest periods built – in. This next suggestion is likely harder to get through, but why not encourage naps during breaks?
Improved staffing is obviously the easiest way to cut work related stress and remove many of the causative factors of nurse obesity. The questions that remain are will management change policies to help the nursing staff fight the onset of obesity. Will hospital authorities realize that to stem the outflow of nurses policy changes must happen? Do they understand the correlation between obesity and lower productivity?
Whether working adverse shifts or not, job stress, balancing work with family, the emotional toll of working with the sick and dissatisfaction with management are all stress factors leading to the high percentage of obesity in the nursing profession.