Public sector professionals who work a shift work routine understand the long hours, endless days and little to no breaks to eat a proper meal. When you’re hungry and exhausted, it’s easy to grab what’s convenient instead of a healthy meal. Most likely, it’s a microwave meal or takeaway.
In a 2015 survey, public and voluntary sector professionals responded to how the stress and long hours of the job have impacted their life. The survey was completed by 3,700 housing, healthcare, social care, local government, central government, policing and voluntary staff.
The results revealed that 19 per cent of respondents didn’t take a break during the day, and 23 per cent had between zero and 15 minutes for their main break.
Public and voluntary professionals working in these conditions experience the stress of the routine and face diet and nutrition issues, including overeating, digestion problems, weight gain and eating on the run.
The general secretary of Unison, a UK public service union, explained: “Not everyone’s job allows them to take lunch at the same time every day. For example, home-care staff whose working day is spent mostly on the road travelling from one patient to the next, find it hard to grab five minutes to themselves, let alone take a 30-minute lunch break.”
In another review, shift workers across the public sectors show changes in meal patterns, skipping more meals and consuming more food at unconventional times. In addition, they show higher consumption of unhealthy foods resulting in a negative effect on their diet and fitness.
Close linkage between health impacts associated with shift work
As society moves toward around the clock service, the number of public sector jobs in Australia is likely to increase, according to the federal budget papers of 2021-22. Consequently, researchers are now looking at the health patterns of shift workers in the public sector and what it means for their long-term health.
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, research suggests that shift work is associated with a greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. While researchers don’t know why this is, they believe that lack of sleep is a significant contributor.
Shift work disorder (SWD) refers to insomnia and excessive sleepiness related to shift work. SWD is one of the most common health problems in public sector shift workers; approximately 10 to 15 per cent of shift workers may experience SWD. It disrupts the circadian rhythm, which negatively affects diet and exercise and the quality and quantity of sleep.
Many respondents across a range of public sector roles mention that lack of sleep is one of the most significant impacts of the job.
The lack of sleep then affects appetite, and workers turn to high energy snacks to keep them going when they feel low on energy, but they are often unhealthy.
Finding convenience in healthier choices
Fortunately, there are now more options to help make eating healthier easier. Combined with better sleep and exercise, there are a few tips to help shift workers to feel their best, even amid chaos:
- Eat regular small meals and snacks throughout the day. These small meals are less likely to cause drowsiness and maintain alertness.
- If food prep is too time-consuming, consider healthy meal plans (Ensuring that ready meals contain only nutritious and fresh local ingredients, like these)
- Choose healthy filling foods that are a good source of protein, energy, fibre and micronutrients.
- Bring healthy snacks like fruit, vegetable sticks, rice crackers, mixed nuts or boiled eggs.
- Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration as it can increase tiredness and decrease performance.
- Keep caffeine consumption to a minimum. Although a stimulant, excessive caffeine can negatively affect an individual’s circadian rhythm thus preventing effective sleep.
While working shifts, healthier and more convenient meal plans make staying on top of health and fitness easy. Visit Chefgood online to explore ready made meals that use whole foods and also support Australian suppliers through locally sourced ingredients.