Fixing unhealthy workplaces is a more pressing issue than singling out overweight nurses

 Susan Masters 29 Jul 2020

This week, a prominent newspaper columnist thought now was the time to ask, in his words, why so many nurses are so fat? 

Prompted by the Prime Minister’s decision to embrace more interventionist public health policies to tackle obesity rates, Charles Moore wrote in the Daily Telegraph there were probably no statistics on the issue of overweight nurses. He added, however, the nursing station in most hospitals contains one person with a BMI over 30. 

There are, in fact, statistics, on this topic. A recent study shows nurses are no more likely to be overweight or obese than the rest of the population.

As a woman, I have to wonder, if ours was a male-dominated profession, would certain media commentators still be so obsessed with our size and shape? 

At a time when nurses have gone above and beyond to care for their patients, many will be deeply hurt by Mr Moore’s attack on their weight when we all have a role to play in improving the health of the nation.

If nursing staff talked this way to their patients, people wouldn’t trust us or our advice. There’s a reason nurses rank consistently among the most trusted professionals. 

The Royal College of Nursing is campaigning for healthy workplaces with improved access to nutritious food and healthier working patterns. Our resource, Rest, Refuel, Rehydrate, is a blueprint for health and social care managers to ensure that nursing staff are taking their at-work breaks, are well hydrated and have access to nutritional food. 

The RCN worked with C3 Collaborating for Health, The RCN Foundation, London South Bank University and the Burdett Trust for Nursing on the Healthy Weight Initiative for Nurses (WIN) project. This culminated in an app, NURSING YOU, to help nurses determine how they make decisions at work and identify goals to be healthier. 

However, our work is made more difficult with widespread, chronic vacancies across health and social care throughout the UK. Long shifts and working hours lead to poorer mental and physical health for nursing staff. 

This is a more pressing issue than singling out nurses who, just like the country they care for, need to be supported to live healthier.

We are pleased to see the Prime Minister take our nation’s health seriously. But, the Government’s work shouldn’t stop here to reduce obesity rates. Policies need to be backed by substantial investment, including more investment in our nursing workforce. 

Susan Masters

Susan Masters

RCN Director of Nursing, Policy and Public Affairs

Susan has been in her current role since December 2019. She has been a registered nurse for 29 years. Susan trained as a Registered General Nurse at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, qualifying in 1991, staying there post-graduation to work on acute wards and the coronary care unit.

Susan later moved to Great Ormond Street Hospital to become dual trained as a Registered Sick Children's Nurse. Returning to the South West region, Susan studied health visiting at the University of the West of England and, after qualifying, worked as a health visitor for many years in Somerset.

She had many years' experience in senior leadership roles, including regional roles and as an associate director of nursing and quality in a South West clinical commissioning group before joining the RCN in February 2018 taking up the role of regional director for the South West region. She is a graduate of the NHS Leadership Academy, gaining an MSc in Senior Leadership.

Page last updated - 10/12/2020