One Bite At A Time: Better Nutrition For Nurses
A balanced diet is a critical piece of the health picture. Unfortunately, many nurses face an uphill battle when it comes to eating right.
Federal dietary guidelines recommend adults eat 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily. Yet according to the American Nurses Association’s 2016 Health Risk Appraisal, a mere 16% of nurses report eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
That survey also revealed that almost 6 in 10 nurses are overweight or obese with the average body mass index (BMI) of nurses falling in the overweight range, at 27.6.
Those stats make sense when you consider the challenges nurses often face:
- Many nurses don’t get a chance to take meal breaks during their shifts. That can force them to grab snacks from the vending machine or reach for a donut from the break room when they have a few minutes to spare.
- Hectic work schedules means nurses often resort to convenience options. Almost half of nurses report eating fast food once or twice a week, and 40% eat fast food three or more times a week.
- Only 56% of nurses report they have access to healthy food during work hours. Many hospital cafeterias, for instance, still offer a lot of fried foods and sweets. Some hospitals even have fast-food restaurants on site.
- Patients frequently thank nurses with goodies like chocolates or homemade cookies. While it’s nice to be recognized for a job well done, resisting tempting treats can be a challenge.
- Stress eating is a real phenomenon. Research shows that chronic stress can interfere with the hormones that regulate appetite and also drive people to choose foods that are high in fat and sugar. That’s notable for nurses, given that 82% report experiencing stress at work.
Individual nurses can take steps to improve their own daily diets, but they can’t do it alone. The organizations that employ them also have to play a part in creating workplace cultures that encourage smart food choices.
As role models, educators, and advocates for good health, nurses can inspire their patients to establish healthier eating habits, one bite at a time.
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The American Nurses Association’s Health Risk Appraisal -- Exploratory Data Analysis, November 30, 2016
Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation: A synthesis of research regarding the status of nurses’ health in the United States, 2016. (White Paper)
Why Stress Causes People to Overeat. Harvard Medical School.
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