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Readers’ panel: Are protected mealtimes for nurses necessary to tackle the workforce’s obesity crisis?

A lack of breaks and availability of junk food are said to contribute to nurses being overweight or obese, so could protected mealtimes help?

A lack of breaks and availability of junk food are said to contribute to nurses being overweight or obese, so could protected mealtimes help? Nursing Standard readers have their say

Picture shows a staff member at the canteen of a hospice in London. Lack of breaks and junk food from vending machines are said to contribute to nurses being overweight or obese, and protected mealtimes are being advocated to help tackle the issue.
Picture: Barney Newman

Edinburgh Napier University head of population and public health Richard Kyle, who has carried out research into the prevalence of obesity among healthcare professionals, says that a lack of breaks and the ready availability of junk food from vending machines are contributing to weight issues among nurses, and that protected mealtimes could help tackle the issue.

Grant Byrne is a nursing student in Edinburgh

I am all for protected mealtimes, but our breaks are already protected. We are contractually and legally entitled to them, yet day after day nurses across the UK find themselves forced to go without. Due to staffing issues and rising demand, nurses often have to choose between their patients’ well-being and their own. This decision is not taken lightly, and I doubt that any additional ‘protection’ is going to change the situation on the ground. The answer to this problem, like so many others, is safe staffing. We need to fight for it.

Daniel Athey is a charge nurse on an acute medical unit in Sheffield 

Nurses should be encouraged to take breaks, but this should be done at ward level by their immediate managers rather than by rolling out yet another big project. Obesity is clearly an issue in the NHS, but many hospitals I've worked in, including my current employer, have vending machines with only healthy options. If people want to eat unhealthy foods, they are going to. Tackling obesity is about much more than pointing the finger at hospital vending machine suppliers and blaming working in a busy job.

Liz Charalambous is a staff nurse and PhD student in Nottingham

In theory, nurses work to a contract with a legal right to breaks, but the pressures and pace of the services we work in mean it is not always possible for nurses to take their breaks. Protected mealtimes are necessary to tackle obesity among healthcare professionals, but this is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. Existing hospital services and the types of food available need to be explored, along with the effect of long shifts on the ability to prepare food to bring to work, and personal motivations to lose weight.

Stacie May is a nursing student in Plymouth

Food options in hospitals are shocking. Unless you want carbohydrates, your choices are limited, and it is all so expensive – it is much cheaper to use a vending machine than to buy a hot meal. Nurses should be able to take their breaks away from the ward to eat, rest and rehydrate, and I agree that protected mealtimes would help with this. But staff also have to take responsibility for their own weight issues. Healthy options at work may be limited, but that doesn’t stop people preparing meals on their days off.

Readers’ panel members give their views in a personal capacity only

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