Nurses, police officers and fire fighters could be at increased risk of developing diabetes, experts have said after new research linked shift work to a heightened risk of being diagnosed with the condition.
Compared to normal office hours, working shifts carries a 9% higher risk of developing diabetes, the study found.
“These findings suggest that shift workers need to be aware of their personal risk of developing type 2 diabetes”
Previous research has linked shift work to weight gain and increased appetite – both of which are risk factors for diabetes, the authors noted.
The risk appears to be highest among men and those who work rotating shift patterns, according to the study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Researchers examined 12 studies involving more than 225,000 people, of whom almost 15,000 had diabetes.
While the overall risk of developing diabetes was 9% among shift workers, the authors found that men who worked shifts were 37% more likely to develop the condition.
In addition, those who worked rotating shift patterns, in which they worked different parts of the 24 hour cycle on a regular basis, had a 42% higher risk than those who worked a fixed shift pattern, they said.
Previous studies have linked shift work to a variety of health problems including digestive problems, some cancers and heart issues but this is the first study which links diabetes to the occupations which require abnormal working hours.
“Shift work is associated with a significantly increased risk of diabetes mellitus, especially in men and groups with rotating shifts,” researchers said.
“Given the increasing prevalence of shift work worldwide and the heavy economic burden of diabetes mellitus, the results of our study provide practical and valuable clues for the prevention of diabetes mellitus and a study of its aetiology,” they added.
Dr Alasdair Rankin, director of research at charity Diabetes UK, said: “This study combines evidence from previous research to suggest people who do lots of shift work may be at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, especially for men and people who work rotating shifts.
“The exact reasons for this are unclear and the evidence that it is the shift work that is causing an increase to risk of type 2 diabetes is not conclusive,” he said.
“Nonetheless, these findings suggest that shift workers need to be aware of their personal risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”
In the UK, around 2.9 million people have diabetes, with around 90% of cases being type 2. There are also thought to be around 850,000 people with undiagnosed diabetes.