Poor diet and sleep patterns affect most shift workers

Most shift workers are skipping meals and not getting enough sleep, it has emerged.

A Safefood report on the habits of shift workers shows 67% skip meals on work days, and 78% do not get enough sleep.

The rate of smoking and drinking is highest in the hospitality sector, where 35% are smokers and 28% are high-risk drinkers.

An issue for hospitality shift workers is having access to alcohol in the workplace. They also complain access to unhealthy foods is leading to constant ‘grazing’.

The report, Managing Food on Shift Work, reveals 26% of health service workers are smokers and 24% high-risk drinkers. Half are overweight.

While health and social care workers have poor access to healthier food options, they maintain healthier patterns of food consumption and lower rates of smoking.

In the manufacturing sector, 78% of shift workers are not getting enough sleep, and 64% are overweight but almost half eat meals more routinely, and fewer are high-risk drinkers (15%).

The food safety promotion board Safefood says the findings confirm the need for a tailored approach to providing adequate breaks and healthy eating options for shift workers.

Gender and age were also identified by the report as being influencing factors — men have poorer dietary habits than women and are more likely to report being overweight.

Younger shift workers have poorer dietary habits and higher alcohol consumption rates than older workers, while the latter have poorer sleep patterns and lower levels of physical activity.

Researchers used existing studies as well as surveying over 1,300 people to better understand the factor that influences their food and related lifestyle habits while working shift hours.

Director of human health and nutrition at Safefood, Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said the report showed shift workers (about 15% of the workforce) were at a greater risk of diabetes and obesity.

She said employers had to provide the time and facilities so staff could eat healthily during a work shift, and they should also promote healthy physical activity and sleep habits.

Younger and newer shift workers, in particular, had to be supported in developing healthier habits that would last throughout their working life.

Skipping meals is common and more likely for those who did not get enough sleep and resort to increased snacking as a compensatory measure.

Unhealthy vending machines were blamed for a higher consumption of soft drinks and foods high in fat and sugar.

“Smoking and a smoking culture at work are related to poor dietary habits, and this research backs the need for workplace initiatives to help with smoking cessation,” said Dr Foley-Nolan.

“The role of employers in these issues can’t be underestimated.

“Shift workers deserved improved eating facilities, whether that’s canteens, work kitchens or healthier vending machines, and reasonable time to take breaks.

“Both parties have a stake in having a healthier workforce and the benefits that brings,” she said.

The all-island research was led by University College Dublin with Ulster University and Dublin Institute of Technology.

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