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Shift workers are more at risk in developing type 2 diabetes, or being overweight compared to their day working counterparts.

New study finds night shift workers need support to manage metabolic health conditions

A study by Monash University says that work policies must be designed to target specific barriers that night shift workers face when it comes to unhealthy weight gain and metabolic health conditions.

Published in Obesity Reviews, researchers investigated what gets on the way of night shift workers making healthier lifestyle choices.

Despite making up 13-27 per cent of the workforce, there are currently no systems in place to assist night shift workers in making these healthier lifestyle choices – although they have an increased risk of weight gain and a higher risk of weight-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Across eight studies in Australia, Sweden, Nigeria, the USA, and Botswana, barriers identified spanned across personal, social, organisational, and community. Some of these were stress, lack of routine, limited healthy food options at night, and lack of meal breaks.

One of the researchers, Corinne Davis, said it was important to make healthy food options accessible.

"The fatigue and disruption to routine that often accompanies working at night is challenging for night shift workers," Ms Davis said.

"We need to make it easier for them to choose healthier food options."

Nurses comprise the largest group of health and night shift workers at 46 per cent.

In 2020, 36 per cent of residential aged-care nurses were on call and duty overnight, and 44 per cent were on duty.

Senior author Professor Maxine Bonham said an intervention was vital for their work schedule.

"Night shift workers are critical to our 24-hour society, yet interventions to improve their health fail to acknowledge the physiological and behavioural challenges of their work schedule," Ms Bonham said.

The authors called for more research into the complexities of shift work and consideration of weight loss approaches that account for timing and quality of food intake, as well as factors such as sleep quality's impact on night shift workers' weight management.

The study called on future interventions to focus on eliminating the key barriers faced by night shift workers, such as facilitating the availability of healthier food options within the workplace at night.

"Interventions for night shift workers must be designed to target the known enablers and barriers identified by [them]," the researchers wrote.

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