Call for action following study by the Nurses Lives research programme 

Date posted

5 December 2017


‘Obesity prevalence among healthcare professionals in England’, published today in BMJ Open, warns of the risks to the NHS after a quarter of nurses in England were found to be obese.

It is the first national study to provide reliable estimates of the prevalence of obesity among healthcare professionals in England.

The study was led by Dr Richard Kyle at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Health and Social Care and Professor Jane Wills at London South Bank University’s (LSBU) School of Health and Social Care.


The study analyses a cross-sectional cohort of 20,103 individuals aged 17-65 years who completed the nationally representative Health Survey for England over a five –year period (2008-2012). 

Of this sample, 422 adults were nurses, 412 were ‘other healthcare professionals’, 736 were ‘unregistered care workers’ and 18,533 were employed in non-health related occupations.

The sample included only those who were working at the time of the study to enable comparisons to be made between different groups of healthcare professionals and the general working population.

Obesity prevalence was high across all groups of healthcare workers, with 25.1 per cent of nurses found to be obese, while 14.4 per cent of ‘other healthcare professionals’ were also found to be obese - a group that included doctors and dentists.

Unregistered care workers had the highest prevalence of obesity at 31.9 per cent. This compared with obesity prevalence among the general working population of 23.5 per cent. 

Dr Richard Kyle, Director of Edinburgh Napier University’s ‘Nurses’ Lives Research Programme’ and co-author of this study said: “Obesity is a global pandemic and healthcare professionals are at the heart of efforts to bring down high levels of obesity among the population. 

“That one in four nurses in England have been found to be obese is deeply worrying, not least because we know that obesity is linked to diseases such as cancer, cardio-vascular disease, and diabetes.

“This study provides evidence to support urgent action from NHS England and private sector healthcare providers to address high rates of obesity among nurses and, especially, unregistered care workers. It is vital that we redouble our efforts to take care of our healthcare workers who do so much to care for others.”

LSBU’s Professor Jane Wills, co-author of the study said: “The high prevalence of obesity among the healthcare workforce should urge policy makers and employers to provide solutions through workplace initiatives that support staff to maintain a healthy body weight. 

“Other research at LSBU has revealed that many nurses think they should be role models for public health and believe that their credibility in health promotion practice is undermined if they are obese. Greater investment in the health of the nursing workforce would benefit the health service in terms of credible public health messages, improved workforce retention and sickness-absence rates, better patient care and productivity, improved morale, job satisfaction and well-being.”

The study also pointed to potential problems for the future nursing workforce. Obesity prevalence was found to be especially high among older nurses. As almost half (47.1 per cent) of English nurses are over the age of 45, this poses a likely future burden of ill health for the healthcare workforce. 

Obesity is a major risk factor for musculo-skeletal conditions and may be a risk factor for common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety which are the main causes of sickness absence in the health service. 

An earlier study carried out at Edinburgh Napier in 2015 found similar issues north of the Border, with nearly seven in 10 Scottish nurses overweight or obese.

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