Nurses and Obesity

Nurses and Obesity
In 2009, a study of 194 nurses from six hospitals was conducted to measure weight and lifestyle. The study found a majority to be obese with low levels of self-care activity such as diet and exercise. This study is important because it reinforces the need for leadership coupled with individual responsibility to improve the health of our nurses. It is difficult to model and teach healthy lifestyles and preventive care to our patients if we are unable to effectively pursue this in our own lives. Globally, overweight causes more deaths now than underweight. This is a shift of culture, but not one that is inevitable.

Our culture has been unkind to women. We have the media constantly negating the healthy body with a lie, an image that is not only fake, but deadly. The anorexic models, combined with the women who have had numerous surgeries to change their body shape and structure, deplete our ability to maintain positive self-esteem. Even being aware of this duplicity does not stop the negative voices we have all created for ourselves. The size of our clothing is inversely proportional to the size of our meals. The larger our portions have gotten, the smaller the sizing has become on our clothing. Sarah Hartshorne, a "plus size" contestant on America's Next Top Model, has a BMI of 21.5 - well within the normal range. We have anger and bitterness toward our peers who maintain a healthy weight, instead of recognition of goals and the effort put into them.

Nurses have many advantages not afforded to the general public. We often have employers willing to campaign for our health in the form of gym memberships, cafeteria food, and pledge drives that create group participation and support. There are Employee Assistance Programs to address the emotional side of food and body image, usually for free or greatly reduced rates. We also see first hand how not caring for our bodies can lead to long-term disease and damage. This can be an incentive to make changes, or it can actually lead us to feel that disease is inevitable, so why bother! It is important to remember that we see the world through a biased viewpoint. We, by the nature of our jobs, see the sickest people in our communities. This does not mean that all people are sick, and there are, in reality, a large number of people who live long and active lives because of their lifestyle choices.

Nurses by nature are givers. This is often a detriment to our own health, but it doesn’t have to be. We are also, by nature, organized and capable. In the moment, it might seem nicer to stay on the couch relaxing, but it is a short-sighted view. Giving to ourselves by finding fun, active things to do with our families while we are off-duty is healthy and can be encouraged by the nurses in leadership roles where we work and in the media. Taking 30 minutes a day to do the hard stuff that translates into better living for ourselves will set an example for those around us, and that includes our patients and their families. It is always more fun to do something with a girlfriend, so grab that co-worker and take a walk together on your next break!


J Nurs Manag. 2009 Nov;17(7):853-60.
Lifestyle behaviours and weight among hospital-based nurses.
Zapka JM, Lemon SC, Magner RP, Hale J.

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