Alarm over high obesity rate among nurses in Scotland

Nurses' obesity could undermine public confidence in their health promotion messages

Urgent action is needed to tackle the high level of obesity among nurses in Scotland. 

Experts from Edinburgh Napier University found 70% of nurses are overweight or obese. They analysed data from 13,483 adults aged 17-65 who had worked in the past month in one of four occupational categories; nurse (411), other healthcare professional (320), unqualified carer (685) or non-health occupation (12,067).

Researchers were alarmed to discover that 69.1% of nurses exceeded the body mass index rating of 25.0 compared to 51.3% of other healthcare professionals.

The study was part of a wider investigation by the university’s school of nursing, midwifery and social care called the Nurses’ Lives Research Programme. The data came from five annual Scottish Health Surveys run by the Scottish Government.

RCN congress vice-chair and nurse BJ Waltho called the results startling and worrying. 

Ms Waltho, who has a special interest in overweight nurses, said: ‘We need to understand why it is that high. Is it purely factors affecting only nurses? Or is it a reflection of a much wider health problem in Scotland?

‘If it is a nursing issue, then is it caused by a lack of proper breaks where people are not getting enough time to eat a healthy meal and are instead grabbing crisps or chocolate on the go which are empty calories? It could also be they are so overworked they are too tired to exercise in their own time.'

The academics led by Richard Kyle began their study after noting nurses’ own health behaviours influenced the extent to which they promoted healthy living, and the public’s confidence in the advice offered.

The study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies concludes: ‘Prevalence of overweight and obesity among Scottish nurses is worryingly high, and significantly higher than those in other healthcare professionals and non-health-related occupations. This potentially harms nurses’ own health and hampers the effectiveness of nurses’ health promotion role.

‘Interventions are therefore urgently required to address overweight and obesity among the Scottish nursing workforce.’