Obesity is one of the contributing factors of non-communicable diseases. It has been predicted to be the main cause of increased mortality rate in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region.

In Malaysia, the prevalence of obesity is at 14%, which is nearly triple that of China (5.7%), Japan (5%) and Philippines (6.3%) and double that of Singapore (7.1%). Nurses have a role to play in educating and promoting a healthy lifestyle to the public. Thus, demonstrating and embodying healthy living practices is crucial for nurses.

Maintain a healthy diet

With a tight work schedule, it is not surprising when nurses have to frequently skip meals. However, this triggers the body to consume more afterwards, which may even lead to an increase in weight.

Long working hours (eight to 12 hours per shift), increased workload and shortage of staffs are factors that may lead to nurses eating fewer than three meals a day. According to the American Cancer Society, eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables is ideal. Additionally, eating refined whole grains, limiting red meat consumption and limiting daily alcohol intake will also lead to better health.

For nurses who work night shifts, bringing healthy snacks from home can be used to boost energy instantly, instead of relying on the vending machines provided.

Deal with stress

Stress is often prevalent in the nursing profession. However, not dealing with it effectively may have adverse effects on the nurse’s health.

Constant pressure can lead to chronic stress, which is linked to depression, cancer and obesity. Additionally, eating as a means to reduce stress and pressure will lead to emotional eating, where calorie dense foods are consumed.

Nurses can include stress management and mindfulness techniques when dealing with stressful situations. Programmes that emphasise on general health, diet counselling, wellness campaigns, physical fitness programmes and healthy food choices can also be incorporated.

Get enough sleep

Shift changes and night shifts are common in the life of a nurse. However, when an individual’s circadian rhythm or body clock is interrupted, it will be difficult to get the recommended eight hours of sleep daily. With a lack of adequate rest, the body will lead one to eat more to gain calories for energy.

In view of this, employers are often advised to provide a quiet place for the nurse to take a short nap during night shifts. When organising a shift schedule, the shift should be rotated clockwise; for instance, nights to days, days to evenings and evenings to nights. This follows the body’s natural circadian rhythm, instead of going against it.

Nurses also need to take up the responsibility of ensuring that they get adequate sleep. Nurses could be aware of useful tips to help facilitate sleeping, such as sleeping in a dark and quiet room, avoiding caffeine and staying away from electronic devices.

Get active

Although nursing is a career that can be physically demanding, experts say that walking down long hallways during eight to 12 hour shifts is still inadequate physical exercise to prevent obesity. The American Heart Association recommends that nurses allocate at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five or more times per week.

Without proper actions, nurses will not be able to effectively promote healthy living. By addressing each of the factors above and the solutions, nurses can lead by example and encourage the public to adopt healthier habits, so as to reduce obesity rates. MIMS

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World Health Organisation. Global Status Report On Noncommunicable Diseases 2010. Switzerland: WHO; P. 176.2011
Barrington, W., Ceballos, R., Bishop, S., Mcgregor, B.,& Beresford, S. (2012). Perceived Stress, Behavior, And Body Mass Index Among Adults Participating In A Worksite Obesity Prevention Program, Seattle, 2005-2007. Prev Chronic Dis. 2012
Sokolosky, M. C., & Best, R. (2009). Sleep Deprivation and Fatigue. ED Legal Letter, pp. 6-8.