Leave the cannoli: Healthcare workers more likely to have poor dietary habits

Healthcare support workers are more likely to smoke or have poor dietary habits compared to workers in other occupations, according to a recently published study.

The research, published last week in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, studied clinical measures and behavioral risk factors behind cardiovascular disease in more than 6,000 workers over age 45. The first-of-its-kind study found healthcare support workers, including nursing assistants, therapy aides and phlebotomists, to have the lowest prevalence of “optimal” behavioral health habits, such as diet, physical activity and smoking.

The research team, based at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, found nearly 75% of the healthcare support workers surveyed had a poor diet, while nearly 54% had a higher-than-optimal body mass index.

Healthcare support occupations also had the highest prevalence (11.2%) of workers who smoked non-cigarette tobacco products, such as pipes or cigars, the study shows.

The good news for healthcare support workers was, on average, that they had slightly better scores related to physical activity, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Healthcare practitioners, such as doctors and nurses, registered some of the best numbers in the study, researchers said. Other fields with workers in better overall health included those working in arts or management.

The study's results “highlight the need for more public health programs targeting cardiovascular disease and related risk factors among workers,” researchers wrote. Among strategies they recommended for improving worker health included universal smoke-free policies, restrictions on mandatory overtime and paid sick leave.