28 December 2011

Poor Eating Habits At Work May Lead to Obesity, Diabetes and Other Disease

In a previous work published in the Public Library of Science Medicine (PLoS Medicine), a link was established between an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and rotating patterns of shift work, particularly in US nurses. Building up on that study, an editorial was published in the December issue of PLoS Medicine citing that poor eating habits of shift workers should be considered a new occupational health hazard.

Around 15% to 20% of workers in Europe and the US engage in shift work, particularly in the health care industry. Shift work is a labor practice where the establishment or institution provide service 24 hours, 7 days a week. Employees are given a time period to report to work for the business to continue operating. Shift work is notoriously associated with poor patterns of eating, which is made worse by easy access to junk food compared with more healthy options.

People who work night shifts tend to have lesser eating options than day shifts. And with the limited time given for breaks, it is more convenient for workers to eat in fast food restaurants or use food vending machines in the place of work.

The editorial continues that working patterns should now be considered a specific risk factor for eating related disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are currently at epidemic proportions . It suggests that firm action is needed to address this epidemic, i.e. that "governments need to legislate to improve the habits of consumers and take specific steps to ensure that it is easier and cheaper to eat healthily than not". The editorial specifically suggests that unhealthy eating could legitimately be considered a new form of occupational hazard and that workplaces, specifically those who employ shift workers, should lead the way in eliminating this hazard.

Video: New Culprit in the Obesity Epidemic: The Workplace

In related news, the number of people who suffer from one or more of the adverse complications of obesity, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease is rapidly increasing. Currently, drugs designed to treat obesity have shown limited efficacy and are associated with serious side effects. This is largely because of limited understanding on the effects of obesity on the natural mechanisms of body weight control.

For example, while great strides have been made in the understanding of how the brain controls the desire to feed, as well as the processes underlying the balancing of energy intake and expenditure, little is known about how they are altered by obesity. Two independent groups of researchers have now generated data that begin to address this issue.

In brief, a team of researchers led by Michael Schwartz, at the University of Washington, Seattle, has found that in both humans and rodents, obesity is associated with neuronal injury in an area of the brain crucial for body weight control (the hypothalamus). A second team of researchers, led by Jeffrey Flier, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, has determined that turnover of nerve cells in the hypothalamus is inhibited by obesity.

Video: Obesity, Diabetes and Energy Metabolism


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