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Association between Work and Dietary Behaviors: An Exploratory Descriptive Study

  • Author(s): Aquino, Nathaly
  • Advisor(s): Robbins, Wendie A.
  • et al.
Abstract

Health effects at work from exposures to biological, chemical, physical, mechanical, and psychosocial hazards have often been subjects of company safety programs. Nutrition contributes to health, well-being, and productivity at work. Eating a well-balanced diet allows for the body to process nutrients and to maximize them for optimal energy. Poor dietary habits lead to fatigue, decreased mental ineffectiveness, and decreased the ability to perform the job effectively. Nutrition is a function of dietary behaviors and physiological processes that are influenced by the environment, including the work environment. Effects of work on dietary behaviors have been studied in a limited number of occupations, for example, professional drivers and airport personnel. Each individual industry deals with its work environment having different food options that can influence eating behaviors. Characteristics of work such as shift work, have also been studied and shown to influence the attainment of nutritional goals.

A cross-sectional, descriptive, pilot study was conducted to explore work in relation to patterns of eating and nutritional intake. The aim was to explore work characteristics (hours worked, work setting and job category) in relationship to when, where, and with whom workers ate and to determine whether this was associated with nutritional guideline targets. It was hypothesized that work characteristics would be associated with when, where, and with whom workers ate, and this would influence the attainment of nutritional guideline targets. The goal was to gather information that could provide guidance to employers about work characteristics that facilitate nutritional adequacy and also guide nutrition education for workers to equip them to achieve healthy nutrition.

This explorative, descriptive, pilot study utilized a research data set obtained from 51 healthy, employed men. Work characteristics (hours worked per week, work setting, and the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code were collected by a self-report questionnaire. Dietary behaviors were self-reported and categorized as the place food was purchased and consumed (for example, purchased at the supermarket, restaurant, cafeteria, eaten at work, home or car), when meals were eaten (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack), and whether meals were eaten alone or with others. Nutritional analysis was conducted using the National Institutes of Health (NIH) ASA24, Automated Self-Administered 24-Hour Dietary Assessment Tool. Statistical analysis was conducted using STATA version 16.

Associations were found between several occupational characteristics and dietary patterns. Time as total hours worked per day was inversely correlated with meeting the nutritional goal for grains (r= -0.37, p= 0.01), and remained significant after controlling for total nutrient intake, p = 0.001. Construction workers (n= 4) were 2.4 times more likely and information technology workers (n= 2) were 3.2 times more likely to purchase their dinner meals at a restaurant compared to professional workers. Other dietary patterns were noted for this population of employed men. Participants did not meet the nutritional guidelines for at least one or more food groups: 90.2% did not meet caloric intake goal, 86.3% were below the grain intake, 94.1% and 82.4% were below the dairy and total fiber intake. Workers eating breakfast somewhere other than home and work were 1.6 times more likely to be under the calorie target. Eating breakfast alone had a correlation with not meeting the dairy targets (X2 [4, N= 44] = 9.47, p= 0.05). The pilot study characterized work in different ways from previous studies and dietary behaviors were studied in great detail using different methods of characterization. With the information learned from this small pilot study, a larger study can be built to focus on high-risk occupations in order to develop ways to help workers meet the nutritional guidelines, and helping achieve the Total Worker Health™ goal.

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