New figures suggest that a high proportion of NHS workers in England are obese, and that more efforts are needed to reverse the trend and help them improve their health.
The issue has sparked a debate about the legitimacy of current NHS weight loss guidance as well as on the link between the work environment of NHS workers and weight gain.
Increasing evidence shows that lifestyle habits impact on metabolic health and influence the development of conditions associated with obesity, such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
The newly released data reflects the fact that a majority of healthcare professionals (HCPs) may lack adequate support when it comes to making the right lifestyle choices for maintaining a healthy weight and lowering the risk for these conditions.
Researchers from Edinburgh Napier University and London South Bank University analysed five-year data on 20,103 adults who took part in the Health Survey for England to estimate the prevalence of obesity among HCPs in the country.
Participants included nurses, unregistered care workers and different types of HCPs including doctors, pharmacists, dentists and therapy professionals.
Researchers used body mass indexes (BMIs) to determine obesity rates across these categories of NHS workers and compared their weight assessment information to that of other people not working in a health-related field.
The highest obesity rates were seen amongst unregistered care workers, a third of whom were classified as obese, followed by nurses with one in four considered obese. The odds of being obese were lower, but still high, among other HCPs.
These findings echo previous research conducted in Scotland that found that 29 per cent of nurses, 17 per cent of other HCPs and 35 per cent of unregistered care workers were obese.
The report highlighted possible factors contributing to this trend, and shift working and a lack of access to healthy food options are among the likeliest culprits.
It has been shown that people who do shift work, like most NHS nurses do, have an increased risk of obesity and insulin resistance, and that sleep deprivation results in further increases in insulin resistance.
Longer shifts often mean that nurses are more likely to turn to convenience foods due to lack of time or easy access to better catering facilities in hospitals.
The report outlines the need for the NHS to provide more support for HCPs to change how they eat and to offer counselling on how to improve other aspects of their health, such as their sleep and stress management.
The findings were published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

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