Health warning for ‘overstretched’ care workers

Researchers are calling for urgent action after a study found that Scottish care workers were leading unhealthy lifestyles.

An Edinburgh Napier University research team found more than a third of care workers smoked, four-fifths ate fewer than five portions a day of fruit and vegetables, and two-fifths drank more than recommended alcohol levels and failed to meet exercise guidelines.

The study highlighted health issues among nurses and compared them with other healthcare professionals and non-health sector employees.

Richard Kyle (pictured), the university’s head of population and public health, said the findings were ‘deeply worrying’ because the four lifestyle behaviours are linked to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and stroke.

‘But it’s important we don’t start pointing fingers of blame,’ he said. ‘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.’ 

The study, which has been published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, analysed five years of data and looked at a weighted sample comprising 471 nurses, 433 other healthcare professionals, 813 care workers and 17,103 people with non-health related occupations.

Participants were assessed against health guidelines, including recommendations that people should eat at least five portions of fruit and veg per day, be active for at least 150 minutes a week, and drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week (men) or 14 units (women).

It found that 17% of nurses smoked, half exceeded alcohol consumption guidelines, 46% were not getting enough exercise and 68% fell short of eating the recommended fruit and veg intake.

While they did not stick to the guidelines, overall their health profile was better than that of the general working population.

However, in the case of care workers, 37% smoked, 82% did not eat enough fruit and veg, and 43% drank more than recommended limits.

Kyle added: ‘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.’