Research has found that not enough is being done to support healthy lifestyles among night shift workers, despite these employees facing a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A study by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, found there were no reported interventions to effectively manage weight loss among those who work at night, or encourage them to make healthier dietary choices.
It recommends that employers target the known personal, social, organisational and community-based “barriers” to healthy weight management among night workers, including time constraints, fatigue, work routines, the limited healthy food options available at night, and a lack of meal breaks.
The researchers reviewed the results of eight qualitative and 12 quantitative studies, which collectively involved more than 1,300 participants and were conducted across Australia, Botswana, Canada, Nigeria, Sweden and the US, as well as a European study.
The types of workers involved included nurses, firefighters, paramedics, factory workers, public transport workers and miners. The interventions analysed included physical activity in a gym or workplace, and dietary interventions in a clinic or the workplace.
The three key findings were identified:
- there are currently no reported intervention studies that target weight loss for night shift workers
- several studies target lifestyle dietary and physical activity changes related to weight management for night shift workers, but only one study found a clinically significant result for weight loss
- there are a range of enablers and barriers for weight management for night shift workers at the personal, social, and environmental levels, but few of these factors were targeted in any of the reviewed lifestyle behaviour change interventions.
Night workers’ weight
The authors called for more research into the impact of sleep quality and the timing and quality of meals on weight management.
The study concluded: “It is critical that interventions for night shift workers are designed to target the known enablers and barriers identified by night shift workers.
“The evidence base needs robust, high-quality studies of a range of interventions across the levels of intrapersonal, interpersonal, organisational, and community, to address the risk of weight gain and related metabolic consequence caused by working at night.”
Corinne Davis, PhD candidate from the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food at Monash University, said: “The fatigue and disruption to routine that often accompanies working at night is challenging for night shift workers and we need to make it easier for them to choose healthier food options.”