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Are nurses more likely to be overweight?

Nurses play a vital role in promoting health and wellbeing, but does their own health reflect this? In particular, are nurses more likely to be overweight or obese compared to the general population? With demanding schedules, shift work, and high stress levels, the nursing profession certainly poses challenges when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, research paints a nuanced picture about weight and health among nurses. In this article, we’ll explore studies examining whether nurses are more likely to be overweight, potential reasons for weight gain, and efforts to promote healthy weights in the nursing workforce.

Research on Nurse Overweight and Obesity Rates

Several studies have compared overweight and obesity rates among nurses versus the general public:

Study Sample Results
Bogossian et al., 2012 601 Australian female nurses 70% overweight or obese
Zapka et al., 2009 1,676 US nurses 55% overweight or obese
Miller et al., 2008 62,833 female Canadian nurses Overweight and obesity higher than Canadian female population
Kyle et al., 2016 177 US ICU nurses 61% overweight or obese

Based on this research, it does appear that nurses have elevated rates of overweight and obesity compared to the general public. However, it’s important to note that these rates vary based on location, nurse population studied, and comparison groups used. More research is still needed for definitive conclusions.

Factors Contributing to Weight Gain Among Nurses

Assuming nurses are at higher risk of overweight and obesity, what factors may contribute to this?

Work Schedules

Nurses often work long, irregular hours with shift work, overtime, and frequently skipped breaks. Such schedules can disrupt circadian rhythms and normal eating patterns, which can promote weight gain. Night shift work especially is linked to obesity among nurses.


Nursing is a demanding, high stress job. Stress causes elevated cortisol levels which can increase appetite, drive cravings for high fat/sugar foods, and promote fat storage around the abdomen. Nurses cite heavy workloads and emotional strain among key job stresses.

Lack of Exercise

Long hours coupled with mental and physical exhaustion leave nurses with little time or energy for exercise. One study found nurses take only half the number of steps per day compared to the general population. Lack of activity can slow metabolism and burn fewer calories.

Poor Eating Habits

Long shifts often lead to quick, unhealthy meal choices in hospital cafeterias or vending machines. Nurses often eat on the move with little time to prepare nutritious foods or eat mindfully. Such habits can make it easy to overeat empty calories and gain weight.

Safety Concerns

Some nurses are hesitant to exercise outside of work due to safety concerns related to their commuting hours. This can deter nurses from establishing regular exercise habits.

Impact of Nurse Obesity

If nurses have elevated obesity levels, how does this impact their health and job performance?

Health Risks

Like the general population, overweight and obese nurses have increased risk for:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Certain cancers
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Chronic back pain

Obesity also increases risks during pregnancy.

Mental Health

Obesity can contribute to depression, body image issues, and lower self-esteem. Nurses may feel hypocritical educating patients about healthful behaviors if they struggle to maintain a healthy weight themselves.

Job Performance

Excess weight causes fatigue, slowing nurses down and making shift work even more challenging. Joint and back pain are common complaints impacting ability to perform physical tasks. Overall job satisfaction may decline as well.

Patient Perceptions

Some studies indicate patients have less confidence in overweight and obese nurses’ ability to provide accurate health education. However, other studies show no impact on patient satisfaction or trust.

Promoting Healthy Weights for Nurses

Given the challenges nurses face, how can we create workplace environments to help nurses achieve and maintain healthier weights?

Ensure Adequate Breaks

Breaks should be enforced, and additional coverage provided so nurses can take full breaks to eat properly and decompress from stress.

Provide Healthy Meal Options

Hospitals should ensure nutritious meals, snacks, and beverages are available around the clock in cafeterias, vending machines, pantries, and other facilities.

Create Exercise Programs

Wellness programs with discounted gym memberships, workplace fitness challenges, and walking groups can make physical activity more appealing and accessible.

Train Nurse Managers

Nurse managers should be educated on leading by example with health behaviors. They should also learn strategies to promote healthy behaviors among nursing staff.

Encourage Work-Life Balance

Nurses need support to take time off and practice self-care to avoid burnout. Healthy work-life integration should be emphasized and rewarded.

Provide Wellness Resources

Onsite health coaching, lifestyle counseling, nutrition classes, and stress management can all equip nurses with skills for long-term weight management and wellbeing.


The demanding nursing profession certainly poses challenges for maintaining a healthy weight. While research on nurse overweight and obesity rates is still emerging, it does appear nurses may have elevated risks versus the general public. Factors like long shifts, chronic stress, fatigue, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise contribute to these risks. Overweight and obesity among nurses negatively impact health, job performance, and potentially patient trust. Supporting nurse health through workplace wellness initiatives, training for nurse managers, and fostering work-life balance can help. With modifications to the practice environment, nurses can overcome obstacles and serve as role models of health for the patients they care for.