Curbing Nurse Obesity Can Shrink Hospital Costs

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , March 5, 2012

Han's findings are the latest in a series of University of Maryland School of Nursing studies examining nurse health and productivity and the linkage to quality of care. Other UMD studies led by Profs. Alison Trinkoff, Carla Storr, and Jeanne Geiger-Brown, have linked nurses' 12-hour shifts and irregular schedules with sleep deprivation, health problems, and patient-care errors.  

"When I presented the preliminary results of this study at a national nursing conference in 2010, a lot of nurses showed me their interest," Han wrote. "They agreed their working conditions influence their eating/exercise habits and finally their weight. But also they said they felt nobody cares for their health, especially for their lifestyle-related health. Usually hospitals show attention for nurses' occupational health, such as needle-stick injuries. Nurses are assumed to have desirable lifestyles and be healthy and in addition, to be a caregiver rather than a care receiver."

Han believes that hospitals can take steps to create a healthier work environment for nurses. These could  include educational interventions to make nurses aware of the risks they face, improvements to work schedule flexibility, and even instituting naps  in the workplace to prevent sleep deprivation during 12-hour shifts.

Hospitals should also provide affordable and easy access to healthier foods, and give nurses sufficient time to eat properly, Han believes. In South Korea, for example, she says hospitals often offer free and healthy meals to nightshift workers. 

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