(NEW YORK) — While shift workers are needed to help our 24-7 world go ’round, an editorial written by Dr. Virginia Barbour, chief editor of the journal PLoS Medicine, warned that such work schedules can put a person at increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
She even argued that unhealthy eating habits on the job should be considered an occupational health hazard.
“We have a long-standing interest in publishing on the diseases and risk factors that cause the highest burden of disease,” Barbour told ABC News. “We would suggest that employers need to take unhealthy eating very seriously, to the extent that they consider that unhealthy foods are essentially environmental hazards and that they should consider what the implications are of exposing their employees to high levels of such hazards in the form of vending machines and fast-food restaurants.”
In the editorial, Barbour cited a study that was published in the journal earlier this month that examined rotating night-shift work and the risk of type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease in which blood-sugar levels are abnormally high in the body. Most people are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis.
The study found that more than 11 percent of a participating nurse cohort reported doing shift work for more than 10 years, and the research results suggested that an extended period of rotating night-shift work was associated with a modestly increased risk of type 2 diabetes in women.
The study noted that late-night workers might be more likely to grab a fast, less-nutritious meal than those who work normal business hours. They might also get less sleep and exercise less because of the disturbed sleep schedules.
“A substantial proportion of the work force will be working in shifts and advice from governments needs to reflect that,” Barbour said. “And shift workers, in turn, need to ensure they understand that shift work is not just inconvenient and anti-social, but also a substantial risk factor for poor health outcomes. Hence, they need to consider their shift work as their ‘normal’ hours and make a positive effort to ensure they incorporate a balanced diet, and exercise into their lifestyle, despite the hours.”
Shift workers make up about 15 to 20 percent of the European and U.S. working population. It is “notoriously associated” with poor eating habits and, ironically, shift work is especially associated with the health care industry.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio