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Are obese nurses poor role models for patients?

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19 November, 2012

Last week Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a former president of the Royal Society of Medicine, said ministers should introduce a “requirement” for all health service employers to “address obesity in their staff at all levels”.

“The staff are often quite severely obese and actually act as a very poor role model to those patients whose obesity should be being addressed,” the independent crossbench peer said at question time in the House of Lords.

What do you think?

Readers' comments (65)

  • Making this a requirement is treading on very dodgy ground indeed. Who sets the parameters for what is considered obese enough for 'addressing'? Then again, what about extremely thin nurses, are they 'setting a good example?'. I am borderline obese on the ward chart but work full time, have not taken a sick day in 18 months and manage to motivate and encourage patients without any problems. If the patients don't have a problem with me, should Baroness Finlay?

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  • The reasons behind obesity are poorly understood and linked to psychological issues/brain physiology. Research is ongoing and it is not as simple as overeating. I am of normal weight but support any colleague doing a good job. Are we going to stop nurses with mental health issues looking after mental health patients, or smoking nurses looking after cardiology patients? No. We are here to give the information and help people make better choices.

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  • Is a patient who is advised to give up smoking going to listen to a health professional who stinks of cigarettes? Is an obese patient who is advised to lose weight for health reasons going to take notice of an obese health professional? Perhaps not?

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  • I'm not saying that the Baroness is right, however I do think that as an 'aging' workforce we need to take some responsibility for our own health. As we are now being asked to work longer with less staff and nursing is such a physical job anyway surely the more we can do to protect ourselves from injury/ill health the better really.

    I do think though that managers/nhs trusts could do more to promote healthy living/ look after their staff a bit more.

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  • I am an obese nurse, and I agree!!
    I feel awkward currently working on a cardiology ward where part of the advice and rehab is healthy eating and losing weight and exercise.
    But I am trying to do something about it. Would love it if there was more help from work, maybe cheaper gym memberships or access to dieticians. As a newly qualified nurse trying to get on the property ladder every penny is sacred and I can't afford a gym membership.
    However, I do also feel that I can relate with my patients and understand how it's not easy to just lose weight.
    I also think the same about smoking. There are only a couple of smokers on our ward but I think it's awful when they come back off break stinking of fags when we are trying to encourage our patients to give up.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Nov-2012 3:23 pm

    Easy solution. Just remove all these flawed nurses from circulation and let's see how well the remaining work force copes with all those sick folk.

    Let's not stop at the fatties. Whilst we're at it, let's ditch stressed nurses (how can they be helpful to anxious patients?), those who drink alcohol (what a poor example they are to the alcoholics); in fact, anyone who has a demonstrable human failing. That's pretty much most of the profession.

    Perhaps not.


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  • Just removing flawed nurses isn't the answer as the above poster seems to think. If nurses ate more healthily and exercised, it would help their stress levels as they would be active and healthier and better able to cope at work. I also said health professionals which means all those involved in providing care, not just nurses.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Nov-2012 7:16 pm

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  • The answer seems simple doesn't it? Just eat less and exercise more. Makes perfect sense to me. If it were truly that simple, then why doesn't this happen? (Because... it really doesn't!) Maybe it isn't that simple? Simply repeating the same thing over and over again obviously isn't working.

    Perhaps the mechanisms of behaviour change are a little more complicated than we seem to believe? Personal responsibility? Certainly, we must have that. smokeybabes | 20-Nov-2012 7:01 pm seems to be taking responsibility by 'trying' to do something about it and I wish you luck, smokey. And if it were as easy as eating a little less and exercising a little more, as some seem to think it is, then there wouldn't be such an 'obesity epidemic' as it is being described.

    Anonymous | 20-Nov-2012 7:09 pm has a point. There is rather a lot of smug 'fattism' creeping into the attitudes of many health professionals.

    So what to do about it? Carrot? Stick? A bit of both? Better training in and understanding of behaviour change couldn't do any harm for starters. Why don't we ask those who struggle with weight what they think may help?

    Or is it just easier, if not effective, to keep stating what looks like the obvious answer?


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  • tinkerbell

    Perhaps fat people could wear a placard to work saying 'i am fat, feel free to kick me'.

    We can see their weakness, what's yours?

    At least they are getting up every day and going to work and contributing to society and not sitting at home wallowing in self pity on the couch but that's not good enough is it, they should be made to feel bad about it too, cos obviously they ain't trying hard enough and are giving in to that feeling of 'hunger' or empty void and comfort eating or whatever.

    There's enough health education out there but maybe it should be made compulsory for all, no food, no fags, no alcohol, no whatever could affect you mentally or physically performing at your optimum level. Hide all fat people, smokers, drinkers away from the eyes of the rest of us, we shouldn't have to look at that.

    We can only cater for, look upon those who are the 'perfect specimen of body beautiful' No NHS workers required then.

    We should all be shoe horned into 'conforming' to the dictators of what is good for you. Never mind that supermarkets, media design and engineer everyone to 'go large', Bogofs etc.,

    Talk about people in glass houses. Would you like fries with that?

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  • tinkerbell

    MP's still fiddling their expenses as outlined on 'dispatches' the other night. They're still at it.

    Get your own house in order first then come tell us all about it.

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  • we used to smoke in handover, we also used to smoke on the balcony with our patients - oh how times have changed.

    there are some overweight and unhealthystaff out there but I'd rather have a rehab chat with someone who actually knows what it's like.

    someone has said exercise more - any idea how far nurses walk on an average shift or how many calories we burn off with all the stretching up, bending down - let alone the nervous energy we burn off.

    next time a patient offers me a sweet I will say no thank you, I need to be seen to be a good role model, I can't be seen eating sweets, I may get fat or all my teeth may drop out.

    fat health staff whatever next? dishonest, lying, incompetent, lazy government officials?

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  • tinkerbell

    I never met my colleague when i worked in the private sector for 4 years, i just heard about what happened. She was described as 'lonely and fat'. She commit suicide, i wondered afterwards if she was lonely because she was fat and didn't fit into society's norms. It's horrific to think that somebody reaches the conclusion the my life is not worth living because i am fat.

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  • I work in a small town in rural Australia as a practice nurse. We have an enormous problem with obesity in our town, and probably 90% of my consults have some lifestyle component. Living in a community like I do all of our patients know how we in our practice live. They see what I buy in the supermarket, they know that I am the weirdo who chooses to ride a bike to work. You have to walk the walk. If we don't show that we think that pursuing a healthy lifestyle is important, why should our patients listen to us? As a practice we have had many initiatives over the years..a walking group for patients, supermarket visits with the dietician,gym memberships for staff,gym visits for patients. At the moment I have a treadmill in my room, that patients go on and can see how long it takes them to walk off half a piece of bread for example. Staff also use it before work.setting a healthy tone in the workplace is contagious. The men at work are doing Movember, so the women are planning to do a pinky triathalon for breast cancer. Nurses as a group have the evidence, so lets all show that we know what a difference a healthy lifestyle makes , without this having to be enforced.

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  • Interesting. At a recent health promotion conference I attended, there was a focus on the problem with 'initiatives'.......in that they don't generally work. (Backed up with good evidence). As health professionals we really need to stop this imposition of stunts and our exasperation when what is obvious to us, seems to be as clear as mud to our patients. I think that most nurses are too rigid in their approach and unable to think out of the box for solutions. There is evidently, here and elsewhere, an attitude that there should be consequences imposed upon those who transgress. The 'do what we tell you, or it will be enforced upon you' approach' isn't working. Really.

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  • Before any of this happens, MPs should all lead by example, take a paycut to a band 5 post, sort out expenses, your assistants should receive band 2 pay. Donate your gold plated pensions back to the state. They're elected to serve the constituency, not to profit from them. Do regular community service in different frontline roles. Isn't being a MP a vocation? afterall do they want to improve society or do they just want us to pay them for doing s*d all, saying what they think we like to hear, breaking pledges, not providing actual solutions or doing any real work themselves. Time to be in it together.
    Either that or give us same pay + pensions as a MP, afterall we've earnt it :)

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  • so what if health workers are overweight, smoke, drink, have unprotected sex,have tatoos - we are not here to judge others and we should not be judged either. we are just normal people so please just leave us alone, what makes others think they can tell us how to look.

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  • I like cuddly nurses, they are always very kind and remind me of my mummy. Please can all the cuddly nurses look after me, thank you.

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  • I think that I was misinterpreted by the person who posted an anonymous post. We try and get alongside our patients and help them. We try to offer different solutions for them . We are constantly trying to think outside the square. We have no govt funding for health promotion activities so everything we do comes out of the practice purse, and is well thought out. We impose nothing on on patients, how can we? However if they don't know the health consequences of the extra kgs they carry, then how can they make informed choices. We try and empower them to change.Our patients inspire me...the lady in the wheelchair who can't exercise but has lost 30 kgs, the cohort we have who are 90 plus, who are all lean. I can't live with the thought that our patients could end up in the nursing home for 20 years post CVA , because we hadn't tried to help them make lifestyle changes.... Because they didn't know. My point is that we have to show that we think it is important by doing it ourselves. We have a physician where we live , to whom we refer patients for stress tests. Nine times out of ten they come back saying" how can he talk to us about losing weight, he doesn't do it himself." I imagine more workplace initiatives would be helpful. In my previous post I mentioned some of the things that we have been doing but I would love to hear from other people with more ideas.
    No , we don't pull stunts. We simply try our best to reduce complications of chronic disease, and improve outcomes for our patients.

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  • They have now started on those of us who are fat.
    The bashing goes on.
    We eat lots of chocolates as we do not get breaks, and we put it in our mouths to keep going. our work is difficult and most times stressful, when we get home we are too tired to prepare the healty food so we stick one of those poor nutrient frozen food in the oven, we eat then sleep because we are so damm tired, the ward sister did not help today she just pointed out more work for us to get done.
    Yes as health professionals we should eat healtier, but the healtier food is more expensive and with our pennies we buy cheaper.
    Yes we should set an example and not be overweight, but the trusts will not dream of putting a gym somewhere near the hospital grounds so we can make use of it or even giving us discounted cards so they can supplement our gym cost.
    So now this is brought up I am keen to know if somethingh will be done about more staff on the ward, better management from on top to ensure there is an intelligent ward allocation plan so the workload is evenly distributed with senior nurses doing their part and not jut sitting in an office doing paper work.
    Also grounds and gym for sport and execise activity to take place.
    Not forgetting better pay so we can buy proper food to eat, or take down the price of healty foods so the nation can benifit.
    Actually, it is good that this subject is brought to light, if steps are not taken to remedy this then we nurses should claim for our gym cost and healty foods as it is vital that we set a good example.
    Thank you for highlighting this.

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