Unhealthy lifestyles of care workers revealed as more support urged

By Lucy Christie, Press Association Scotland

There are calls for more support for care workers after a study revealed many smoke, drink beyond the recommended guidelines, and do not take adequate exercise.

Research led by Edinburgh Napier University looked at the lifestyles of 813 care workers, and it found fewer than 20% eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The team said the results of the study are concerning given the role of healthcare professionals in promoting healthy lifestyles among their patients.

Smoking, drinking, a lack of exercise and dietary factors are linked to cancer, diabetes and stroke.

Richard Kyle, head of population and public health at Napier, said: “We hear regularly from care workers about the pressures of their role and overstretched healthcare services. It’s almost inevitable that this takes its toll on care workers’ own health.

“We need to do more to support our army of care workers across Scotland who day-in, day-out provide essential care to people in their homes and our hospitals.

“This starts by supporting care workers to stop smoking and to eat more healthily, but it also means asking harder questions about whether their pay and working conditions reflect the value we all place on the vital work they do.”

The study analysed five years of data from 2008-2012, gathered as part of the Government’s Scottish Health Survey.

Researchers looked at 471 nurses, 433 other healthcare professionals, 813 care workers and 17,103 people with non-health-related occupations.

Richard Kyle says care workers should not be ‘blamed’ (Edinburgh Napier/PA)

They were assessed against current health guidelines, including being active for at least 150 minutes a week, and drinking no more than 21 units of alcohol per week if they are male, or 14 units if they are female.

A “significant” number of nurses did not stick to the guidelines but overall their health profile was better than that of the general working population, the study found.

In the case of care workers, 37% smoked, 82% did not eat enough fruit and vegetables, and 43% drank more than recommended limits and did not meet exercise guidelines.

The research team said: “Care workers had the highest rate of smoking and the lowest intake of fruits and vegetables. Efforts to increase access to healthy food should be prioritised and smoking cessation programmes among care workers are urgently required.”

The Nurses’ Lives research paper, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, is said to be the first to examine the behaviours of a cross-section of Scotland’s health workers in detail.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We value our social care workforce and are committed to raising the status of social care as a profession. That is why we have driven the payment of the real Living Wage in the sector, a move that has benefited up to 40,000 care workers.

“We are also working with COSLA, care providers and other partners to improve careers and workforce planning for this trained and dedicated workforce under the national Health and Social Care Workforce Plan.”