A new study by Monash University has found that rotating shift workers are at a higher risk of obesity as they eat more high-calorie food and consume fewer fruits and vegetables than regular workers.
The study examined the eating habits of rotating shift workers, who alternate between day and night shifts, and found that these employees consumed an average of 264 more kilojoules daily than regular workers.
Lead author Angela Clark said this could contribute to developing diabetes and other conditions, as consuming just 100 kilojoules extra daily could lead to half a kilogram of weight gain in a year. Shift work has also been linked to heart disease, dementia, poor mental health, and a higher chance of death.
Simply getting up and going to sleep at a different time from the sun doesn’t sound that dramatic, but many of the body’s essential functions and processes are tied to an internal clock.
This rhythm can be disrupted by working at night, leading to impaired cognitive function, slow reaction times, and poor decision-making.
Experts suggest employers should provide access to healthy food options for overnight workers, such as catered meals, better vending machines, or a freezer. Shift workers could also plan to eat more during the day to reduce snacking at night.
The Monash study also found that rotating shift workers were likelier to reach for confectionery, junk food and alcohol.
If you have to work through the night, experts suggest that the best thing to do is avoid rotating shifts and stay on regular shifts. While people who work regular overnight shifts could adapt to their schedule to an extent, especially if they avoided eating and drinking coffee at night, this was impossible for rotating shift workers with different schedules every week.
At least 1.4 million Australians – about 16 per cent of employees – have shift work as their main occupation, and these rotating shifts are the most common form.