A healthy weight initiative for nurses, by nurses

05 May 2017
Sarah Clarke

A healthy weight initiative for nurses, by nurses

Written by Amanda Thieba

Back in 2016, the Healthy Weight Initiative for Nurses (WIN.) launched as an exciting two-year collaborative project for nurses in England, in a partnership between C3 Collaborating for Health (C3), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Royal College of Nursing Foundation, the Burdett Trust for Nursing and London South Bank University (LSBU).

As its name suggests, WIN. aims to explore whether nurses can be helped to maintain a healthy weight. Healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, are often hailed (by C3!) as ideally placed to tackle the global pandemic of obesity through frontline contact with patients. Yet, the problem of obesity in the workforce itself remains largely unchartered territory despite growing concern and emerging evidence indicating it to be a significant phenomenon (see Scottish study by Kyle et al. 2016 for instance). No doubt a complex and sensitive topic to address in a profession that is demanding and complicated, it is precisely because of the nature of nursing that C3 and its partners believe it is so incredibly important to support nurses into caring for themselves and improve their own health and wellbeing alongside that of their patients and families. WIN. thus set out to strive together with obese nurses to understand the challenges they face in making healthier choices and design, implement and evaluate interventions that they think would be most helpful in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

In the past months, the WIN. team has spent time talking with, and listening to, what nurses – the health experts– have to say about their own self-care and weight management, through a survey, focus groups and workshops across the country. In June last year, the group headed to the RCN Congress in Scotland to gauge support for the WIN. project and survey no less than 197 obese nurses registered in England. Participants were asked about factors that might contribute to the prevalence of obesity in the profession, as well as motivations and attitudes relating to maintaining a healthy weight. The team was overwhelmed by the warm and enthusiastic reception of nurses and their acknowledgment of obesity in nursing as prevalent and problematic for their own health and the impact it may have on caring for patients. Valuable data was gained into the challenges of nursing, and how these may make it difficult for nurses to exercise and eat healthily. Long working hours, shift work and a lack of breaks were repeatedly cited by nurses as barriers to adopting healthier behaviours. What’s more, 38% of the surveyees stated the hospital trusts they work at did not offer any help to maintain a healthy weight despite significant efforts by the National Health Service to help staff adopt healthier lifestyles by offering interventions such as Slimming World classes across trusts.

Fast-forward a couple of months later and the survey findings were mostly corroborated in four focus groups held with obese nurses working in a variety of specialities across locations up and down England. Despite some challenges with getting participants to sign-up for the sessions, nurses are often very busy, these further enriched the insights gained at Congress into the issue of obesity and weight management from the perspective of nurses. They also fed into the subsequent development of three stimulating intervention design sessions with obese nurses in two trusts and a non-trust specific site to co-create possible interventions that are attuned to the distinctive nature of nursing and what nurses believe can help them adopt healthier choices. To date, possible interventions that have emerged are diverse in their scales and aim to address environmental and individual factors contributing to obesity among nurses. Interventions moving forward are; a digital intervention across the nursing profession to help healthy decision-making at key moments of nurses’ lives through an interactive PDF; also the addition of a “My Health” page to the Trust Appraisal form where nurses in the hospital will be able to set their own personal health objectives. So that managers are skilled to discuss healthy weight and associated behaviours, a specially designed training programme on having a healthy conversation about obesity will be developed and delivered.

Nurses at all the workshops and focus groups identified the difficulties of eating healthily at work and staying hydrated and we are looking into this further with a more formal survey.

As WIN. enters the final intervention design and implementation phase of the project, the team will travel to Liverpool in a few days to participate in the RCN Congress 2017 from Saturday 13 to Wednesday 17 May. This will be a fabulous opportunity to bring nurses up to speed on WIN.’s achievements in the past months and gather valuable insight to feed into the development of the healthy weight interventions options that were brought forth by nurses.

If you plan to be at the nursing event of the year, catch the WIN. team at stand H37 to hear more about its journey so far, what lays ahead and ways of getting involved in the project! We will also be testing the initiatives, please give us your views on the decision making aid and join our survey of access to healthy food and hydration while at work – Come find us, we would love to meet you.