Two thirds of shift workers in Ireland are skipping meals

A new study of shift pattern workers revealed that a third are smokers, a significantly higher rate than the general population
Gareth McKeown

A new all-Ireland report has found that working shift patterns can have a negative impact upon your health.

A survey by Safefood has found that two thirds of people are skipping meals, while eight in 10 aren't getting enough sleep. The study also shows how a third of those working shifts were smokers, a significantly higher rate than the general population.

The study of over 1,300 shift workers in Ireland has revealed that lack of breaks, shift patterns, poor availability of food, inadequate canteen opening times and tiredness due to long working hours were the most common barriers to leading a healthier lifestyle.

In Northern Ireland,15 per cent of the workforce work shift patterns.

Principal Investigator Professor Barbara Livingstone of the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) at Ulster University said the figures help better understand the food and lifestyle habits of those working shift hours.

“What’s noticeable from the research is how skipping meals, inadequate physical activity and insufficient sleep are commonly noted by shift workers as behaviours that impact upon them," she said.

"We’re also seeing how the different workplace sectors play a role in those behaviours and how complex that can be – health and social care workers have poorer access to healthier food options and often an erratic, stressful work schedule but in general have healthier patterns of food consumption and lower rates of smoking.

“By comparison, the manufacturing sector has more defined work patterns and breaks and are more likely to have workplace facilities available but higher rates of smoking. Access to unhealthy vending machines is also seen as a negative influence by workers," she added.

Gender and age were also identified by the report as being influencing factors – men reported poorer dietary habits than women and were more likely to report being overweight. Younger shift workers reported poorer dietary habits and higher alcohol consumption rates than older workers. Older workers reported poorer sleep patterns and lower levels of physical activity.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, a director at Safefood, said the findings show that action must be taken to address the issues raised by shift workers.

“It’s clear that we need to support younger and newer shift workers in order to enable them to adapt to shift hours. This will help create healthier habits they will hopefully take with them through their career, " she said.

"The role of employers in these issues can’t be underestimated. Shift workers deserve improved eating facilities, whether that’s canteens, work kitchens or healthier vending machines, and reasonable time to take breaks. Both parties have a stake in having a healthier workforce and the benefits that brings," she added.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access