New research shows that rotating shift workers are more likely to have unhealthy eating habits and are eating more than other workers.
Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne examined the eating habits of shift workers – those who cycle through day and night shifts. They found that these workers typically ate on average 264 more kilojoules each day, the equivalent to about 63 calories, more than other workers.
The lead author, PhD candidate Angela Clark said that while this equated to “something like a handful of potato chips” a day, consuming an added 100 kilojoules each day could cause weight gain and contribute to conditions such as diabetes in the long run.
Clark stated in a press release that the study also found rotational workers tended to eat fewer proteins and carbohydrates, and more fat than other workers.
“The foods and drinks typically consumed by rotating workers were more fried and fatty foods, confectionary, sweetened drinks, and alcohol, with fewer core foods such as dairy, meat, fruit, and vegetables. There was also a pattern of more meals per day and frequent snacking at night,” she said.
Due to the nature of their schedule, many shift workers may not have access to fresh, healthy food options. This may be a barrier that leads to shift workers unhealthy eating habits. Often workers may have to rely on what is available during the night including vending machines, takeout, or convenience foods.
These findings add to the already long list of health issues related to shift work. Shift work has been previously linked into increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, memory loss, and poor mental health. This is typically contributed to the disruption of the body’s natural circadian rhythm – the 24-hour wake and rest cycle. The study’s authors suggest that night time eating and altered sleep times, which are typical of shift workers, can cause impaired glucose control and impaired lipid tolerance which are risk factors for metabolic diseases. These metabolic diseases, when paired with unhealthy dietary patterns could likely increase shift workers’ disease risk.
The study was published online in the journal Advances in Nutrition.