Obese nurses: protected mealtimes are vital to tackle weight issues, says academic

Richard Kyle uses Edinburgh Fringe show to highlight problem and suggest solutions

Richard Kyle uses Edinburgh Fringe show to highlight problem and suggest solutions

Protected mealtimes need to be on the menu to help nurses make healthier food choices, an academic has urged.

Richard Kyle, head of population and public health at Edinburgh Napier University, said a lack of breaks, and the ready availability of junk food from vending machines, are contributing to weight issues among nurses.

Research reveals stark statistics

Dr Kyle made his comments after he staged a one-man show, Obesity Bankrupted our NHS!, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The show explored his research into the prevalence of obesity among healthcare professionals.

His findings revealed that one in four nurses in England are obese, and that seven in ten nurses in Scotland are overweight or obese.

‘[Protected breaks] sounds a bit of a fantasy within the context of a very stretched service, but I think that commitment from the service would show they do care about [nurses] being properly hydrated and being able to rest and refuel,’ said Dr Kyle.

‘We can try to change the culture but if you walk past a vending machine and you are exhausted after 10 hours, you are going to go for that.’

Lack of support by employers 

A 2018 Nursing Standard survey of 3,035 nurses in the UK revealed that more than 70% felt their employer provided little or no support to help them maintain a healthy weight or lifestyle. 

Other barriers to a healthy weight that were cited by respondents included long hours, understaffing, inadequate breaks and high-fat food in hospital canteens.

Exposing the difficulty of even obtaining a glass of water

Dr Kyle said his show gave an insight into the realities faced by nurses in the workplace.

‘People were openly challenging the nursing students [in the audience], saying how can you not have a drink of water?' he said. 

‘The response would be, “Well, actually this is the reality, I’m with a patient and can’t get a water bottle.”'

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said protected mealtimes, in theory, could solve the problem of nursing staff not being able to take their entitled breaks.  

'Until the workforce crisis is rectified, and the government listens to our concerns that there is no one accountable for having the right number of nurses with the right skills working in the right places, it’s unlikely that theory will be turned into practice,’ she said.

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