Potential benefits of healthy meals, snacks and water in healthcare workers in hospital settings

Healthcare employees including doctors and nursing staff often work long hours with irregular shift patterns. They are at increased risk of unhealthy dietary practices and meal skipping due to unpredictable breaks and reduced access to healthy choices in canteens with limited opening hours. This has potential to influence cognitive function, mood and even reaction time with an additional potential to impact on patient safety and security.

Recent research from the University of Denmark gave new insight into the benefit of a daily “healthy meal pack” delivered directly to healthcare workers in a hospital setting to help overcome barriers to good workplace nutrition and hydration.

60 health care workers (88% female, including 16 shift workers) took part in the study. Each participant underwent 8 weeks of “healthy meal packs” delivered to their ward during each of their shifts and 8 weeks following their usual meal pattern. At the start and end of each period dietary intake, mood related scores and reaction times were measured.

The healthy meal packs consisted of a cold lunch of the participant’s choice (salads or wholegrain sandwiches), a snack (wholegrain bun, muesli bar or fruit) and bottle of water.

Measurements showed that providing the healthy meal packs during working hours was an effective way of improving the employees’ overall dietary intake on working days and had potential to impact on long term health benefits. During the “healthy meal pack” phase the healthcare workers had   dietary intakes of fat, carbohydrate and fibre more in line with recommended healthy eating guidelines than during their “usual diet” phase.

The “healthy meal pack” intervention had no effect on reaction time nor any of the mood-related scores in the group as a whole but shift-workers showed beneficial effects in fatigue (31% reduction) , vigour ( 15% increase) and  mood disturbance( 42% reduction). There was also a trend in measurement for shift workers receiving the meal packs to feel less confused and less angry. Researchers attributed these findings specifically to improved water intakes

The results of this study are promising in that they show implementing nutrition interventions to overcome choice and access barriers in healthcare settings is feasible and can improve nutrition intake. Such interventions also have potential to improve related cognitive and mood outcomes particularly in shift workers and can valuably be addressed by policy and practices putting workplace meal and drink provision firmly on the agenda.

Reference : Leedo E , Beck AM, Astrup A and Lassen AD ( 2017)  British Journal of Nutrition 118: 121-29 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28820084

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