80 Percent Of Houston Hospital Workers Are Overweight, Here’s Why

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Even those who work to keep others healthy aren’t better at keeping themselves in shape, according to a University of Texas Health study.

A survey published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has found that 78 percent of Houston hospital employees are either overweight or obese, according to Healthcare Finance. The authors concluded that at least part of the problem is the tendency of caregivers to focus on the health of their patients, rather than their own, in what lead author Shreela Sharma called “the nurturer effect.”

“People who take care of others on a regular basis are generally less likely to take care of themselves,” said Sharma, an associate professor at UT Health School of Public Health. “The focus of hospitals is on patient care so sometimes the workers’ own care can take a back seat.”

The study surveyed 924 employees from six Houston hospitals, but did not include physicians in the tally.

Some results weren’t surprising — workers typically struggled with both healthy eating and exercise, with obese respondents reporting higher levels of starch, sugary drinks, and more butter and margarine. Meanwhile, 65 percent said they never engaged in vigorous physical activity and almost half reported no moderate activity either. (RELATED: Americans Are Getting Fatter While Eating Less Sugar)

In fact, high levels of workers who led mostly sedentary lives outside the workplace, reporting that they spend large amounts of time sitting, watching television and playing video games.

Notably, while 78 percent of respondents were overweight, 79 percent were dissatisfied with their hospitals’ wellness programs. Sharma noted that there was an opening for hospitals to encourage their employees to work on their health.

“These results highlight the need for hospital employers to better understand, support and nurture the health of their employees,” Sharma said.

High majorities are not exclusive to the industry — statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 70.7 percent of adults 20 years and older are overweight, while 37.9 percent were obese, as of 2014. (RELATED: Obesity Claims For Youth Are Rising Dramatically)

While a higher rate of unhealthy habits among health care workers may come as a surprise, researchers have noted the prevalence of obesity among the health professions before. A University of Maryland School of Nursing study in 2012 found that 55 percent of female nurses were overweight, in a survey of 2,103 people. The authors cited job stress and long hours as key issues for nurses in their attempt to stay healthy, ABC reported.

The survey, carried out by the University of Texas Health Science Center, was commissioned by Texas nonprofit Shape Up Houston.

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Sarah Hurtubise