New research shows shift workers are eating more, and making unhealthy food choices when they do so, increasing their risk of diet-related illness.
The Monash University-lead research found rotating shift workers, whose shifts change week-to-week, consumed on average an extra 264 kilojoules in 24 hours, compared to day workers.
“An increase of just 100 kilojoules each day can lead to a .5 kilogram weight gain over a year,” reads the study.
It also found rotating shift workers displayed unhealthy eating habits, including “irregular meals, more snacking or eating at night, less core food consumption and more eating of discretionary foods.”
A Monash University study has found rotating shift workers are eating more than their daytime counterparts, and their food choices are often unhealthy.
Tania Whalen, 51, has done telecommunications shift work off and on for 20 years, and consecutively for the last six years.
She told researchers while she enjoys her work, when she’s tired it was “too easy to grab junk food such as chocolate during a shift.”
“The good part of rotational shift work is having up to four days off at a time and the work has fitted in nicely with raising a family,” she said.
“The bad part is the food and nutrition challenges, especially as I often work 12-hour shifts. That’s a long time to prepare food for and keep it fresh at work.”
Monash University PhD candidate and Research Dietitian Angela Clark said the study also found rotational workers tended to eat fewer proteins and carbohydrates, and more fat than day workers.
The foods and drinks typically consumed by rotating workers were more fried and fatty foods, confectionary, sweetened drinks and alcohol. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP
“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,” she said.
“There was also a pattern of more meals per day and frequent snacking at night, with the majority of kilojoules being eaten in the second half of the day.
“Adding to the complexities of night time eating, shift workers don’t have the same access to healthy food as day workers and may rely more on vending machines, takeaway and convenience foods.”
Monash University, in collaboration with the University of South Australia, is now trialling the effectiveness of three weight loss strategies for night shift workers.