Edinburgh Napier research unveils care workers living unhealthily

There are calls for more support for under-pressure care workers after a study revealed many smoke, drink beyond the recommended guidelines, and do not take adequate exercise.

Friday, 11th January 2019, 9:02 am
Updated Friday, 11th January 2019, 9:03 am
A carer brining a meal to a senior man. Pic: REX/Shutterstock
A carer brining a meal to a senior man. Pic: REX/Shutterstock

Research led by Edinburgh Napier University looked at the lifestyles of 813 care workers, and it found fewer than 20 per cent eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The team said the results of the study are concerning given the role of healthcare professionals in promoting healthy lifestyles among their patients.

Health experts say that smoking, drinking, a lack of exercise and dietary factors are linked to cancer, diabetes and stroke.

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Richard Kyle, head of population and public health at Napier, said care staff were under massive pressure at work as they battle to cope with a rising demand in the face of employee and budget cuts.

Mr Kyle explained: “We hear regularly from care workers about the pressures of their role and overstretched 
healthcare services. It’s almost inevitable that this takes its toll on care workers’ own health.

“We need to do more to support our army of care workers across Scotland who day-in, day-out provide essential care to people in their homes and our hospitals.

“This starts by supporting care workers to stop smoking and to eat more healthily, but it also means asking harder questions about whether their pay and working conditions reflect the value we all place on the vital work they do.”

The study analysed five years of data from 2008-2012, gathered as part of the Government’s Scottish Health Survey.

Researchers looked at 471 nurses, 433 other healthcare professionals, 813 care workers and 17,103 people with non-health-related occupations.

They were assessed against current health guidelines, including being active for at least 150 minutes a week, and drinking no more than 21 units of alcohol per week if they are male, or 14 units if they are female.

A “significant” number of nurses did not stick to the guidelines but overall their health profile was better than that of the general working population, the study found.

In the case of care workers, 37 per cent smoked, 82 per cent did not eat enough fruit and vegetables, and 43 per cent drank more than recommended limits and did not meet exercise guidelines.

The research team said: “Care workers had the highest rate of smoking and the lowest intake of fruits and vegetables. Efforts to increase access to healthy food should be prioritised and smoking cessation programmes among care workers are urgently required.”

The Nurses’ Lives research paper, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, is said to be the first to examine the behaviours of a cross-section of Scotland’s health workers in detail.

n A 2015 study, also conducted by Napier found nearly 70 per cent of Scottish nurses were overweight or obese.

It found 69.1 per cent of nurses needed to shed weight compared to 51.3 per cent of other healthcare professionals.