Working Shifts? How Can You Take Control?

If you’re a shift worker, chances are you’re eating more kilojoules, snacking more on junk food and forgetting about nutritious foods… which means you’re putting your health and well-being at risk.

A review of dietary habit and energy intake studies, undertaken at Monash University and published in Advances in Nutrition, found that rotating shift workers – those who regularly work different shift types with hours of work changing repeatedly – had higher average 24-hour energy intake than day workers.

Shift workers also reported unhealthier dietary patterns than day workers, including irregular meals, more snacking or eating at night, less core food consumption and more eating of discretionary foods.

For each recorded day of kilojoule intake, rotating shift workers ate, on average, 264 more kilojoules than regular day workers. The problem with this is an increase of just 100 kilojoules per day can lead to a 0.5 kilogram weight gain over a year.

Shift Work is Not Unusual

In Australia, 1.4 million employees (16%) have shift work as their main occupation.

Previous studies have found that while shift work may be more convenient or pay more, it puts workers at increased risk of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

A contributing factor to these increased risks is the timing of eating occasions.  Consuming a greater proportion of your daily energy intake at night has also been associated with weight gain and impaired glucose metabolism.

For the first time, the study revealed that rotating shift workers may be eating more kilojoules with a large proportion at night, helping to explain why they face increased risk of chronic diseases.

Workplace Support Needed

Monash University PhD candidate and Research Dietitian, Angela Clark, who works with Monash University’s SWIFt Study (Shifting weight in night shift workers) said understanding the impact of extra kilojoule consumption could go a long way towards much needed workplace support.

She said while the disruption to lifestyle that shift work causes can not be changed, improving diets and eating patterns could make a difference. “The study also found the diets of rotational workers tended to contain less protein and carbohydrates, and more fat than day workers,” she said.

“The foods and drinks typically consumed by rotating workers were more fried and fatty foods, confectionary, sweetened drinks, and alcohol, with fewer core foods such as dairy, meat, fruit, and vegetables.

“There was also a pattern of more meals per day and frequent snacking at night, with the majority of kilojoules being eaten in the second half of the day.

“Adding to the complexities of night time eating, shift workers don’t have the same access to healthy food as day workers and may rely more on vending machines, takeaway and convenience foods.”

Monash University, in collaboration with the University of South Australia, is now trialling the effectiveness of three weight loss strategies for night shift workers. Funded by the NHMRC, The SWIFt Study considers the complexities of circadian rhythms and meal timing on weight-loss success.

“These workers are an important part of our society and are often working around the clock to keep our world functioning,” Ms Clark said.

Need help to minimise the impact of shift work?

If you’re a contractor on shift work, there’s no doubt you’ll be struggling to find time to manage your admin, let alone your health and well-being. Experts at the Ayers Group are here to help. Our online portal can help you manage your contracts – upload timesheets and expenses, prepare contracts and invoices, review where you’re at from one portal in real time, with ease. We can also help you manage your tax obligations and connect you with experts in finance for advice on superannuation, novated leasing and more.

Contact an expert at the Ayers Group today.