Hong Kong Research Links Working Nights To Obesity

Researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong recently analyzed the shift patterns of employees and how it compared to their health. It turns out that working nights could be highly damaging to health.

The research team found that people who work night shifts have a 35 percent higher risk of obesity because the nocturnal schedule derails their metabolism.

Dr Lap Ah Tse, who lead the study observed, ‘Globally, nearly 0.7 billion workers are engaged in a shift work pattern. Our study revealed much of the obesity and overweight among shift workers is attributable to such a job nature.’

Dr Tse’s team actually pooled data from 28 previous studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants across the world including healthcare workers, manufacturing employees, local government staff and bus and truck drivers. The study also showed that the risk of abdominal obesity, the most dangerous type where fat builds around the stomach and damages organs, was 35 percent greater for those working nights.


What’s The Science?

  • Artificial light during night shifts disrupts the brain’s melatonin levels and hinders the body’s metabolism.
  • Someone who works at night will then gain more weight quicker because the metabolism is working slower than normal.

Melatonin regulates the sleep cycle and also hormones such as cortisol, insulin and leptin but disrupting it may harm metabolism, leading to night workers gain weight.

A Shifting Problem

As the modern workforce continues to evolve, shift work is becoming popular among employees because of the high demand for flexibility and productivity in the current work environment. However, balancing these upsides with potential negative downsides is a tricky affair.

Throughout the world, around 3.4 million deaths a year are caused by obesity related diseases. These diseases include diabetes, heart disease, stroke and forms of cancer.

But physical health isn’t the only consideration here. There is also a mental health risk to consider. Whether that be the blurred physical and mental line around concentration and focus, or the possibilities of depression that arise from working less social hours, often in more lonely jobs.

In Hong Kong, the issues around night shifts are particularly in focus given the recent tragic bus accident in Sham Shui Po. On investigation it was found the driver of the bus had recently move to night shifts and on the evening of the accident had started his shift even earlier than usual. It’s important to note that this hasn’t been officially linked to the reason for the accident, but questions have, and should be, asked.

Looking After Yourself When Working Nights

So having established that there can be some negatives attached to night shifts, the reality is that for many people, working nights is either unavoidable or something they want or need to do in the short term to progress their career. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for some healthy snacks to keep your body in fighting shape;

Wholegrain Foods – They help us in our ability to focus, providing a steady supply of energy, which comes in the form of glucose that flows in our blood to our brains. Helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Berries – Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants are great for the brain, full of high dosages of vitamins and other crucial nutrients. Studies shows that blueberries are also effective in reducing short term memory loss.

Tomatoes – They contain high amounts of Vitamin B9, C, K, and potassium, all of which are essential for our body. Potassium in particular is beneficial for blood pressure control, cardiovascular and heart disease prevention. For the office, cherry tomatoes are convenient to snack on in as they come in bite sized forms.

Pumpkin seeds – A handful of pumpkin seeds will give you the perfect amount of zinc, the nutrient essential for memory and thinking.

Broccoli – Packed with vitamin K, which is known to enhance one’s cognitive functions. They are very tasty when combined with sesame dressing.

Nuts – A source of vitamin E, which helps in the prevention of cognitive decline. Walnuts in particular are well-rounded, containing protein, folate, melatonin, omega-3 fats and antioxidants which together can decrease feelings of vulnerability and stress.

Dark Chocolate – The best work snack and my personal favourite! Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidant nutrients and several natural stimulants including caffeine, which can enhance both focus and concentration. It also promotes the production of endorphins, helping to improve moods.

That’s all for now. I’m off for a run. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all those who read this far 😉

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