60-Second Science

Is the Shift-Worker Diet an Occupational Hazard?

An editorial in PLoS Medicine makes the case for considering the poor eating habits of shift workers, and the associated health risk, as a legally defined occupational hazard. Sophie Bushwick reports

For shift workers, odd hours usually mean strange sleeping habits and unhealthy meals. And now an editorial in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine takes the position that unhealthy eating associated with unusual working hours could be considered a new form of occupational hazard. Because such eating is a risk factor for obesity and diabetes. ["Poor Diet in Shift Workers: A New Occupational Health Hazard?"]

More than 15 percent of workers in the United States are employed in shifts, with workers taking over for each other so that the establishment can stay open for up to 24 hours a day. Because some shifts take place at night, employees have their circadian rhythms disrupted, and thus their metabolisms.

Taking round the clock shifts also makes eating a good diet and getting sufficient exercise difficult. A recent study in the same journal found an increase in diabetes risk among nurses who performed shift work. [An Pan et al., "Rotating Night Shift Work and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Two Prospective Cohort Studies in Women"]

The editorial suggests not only employee incentives, but also legislation to make healthful diets easy and cheap. It concludes that treating poor eating among shift workers as an occupational hazard is consistent with the history of workplace safety rights.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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