Doctors and nurses suffer from obesity, diabetes and heart disease only slightly less than the general population, according to a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Researchers found the same societal and environmental factors that have contributed to a rise of chronic disease in the general population affect healthcare workers.
"This highlights the notion that nobody is fully immune to the factors that promote unhealthy lifestyle behaviors," lead study author Anupam B. Jena, M.D, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School told Reuters.
In spite of their firsthand knowledge and experience with the results of unhealthy lifestyles, healthcare workers find that "healthy lifestyle choices and good health are important but aren't easy to come by," Jena said. "Both take work and even healthcare professionals find it difficult."
Jena and his co-author Elias Dayoub, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia studied data from more than a decade of nationwide surveys in which respondents were asked their occupations, health behaviors and chronic health problems.
Around 3 percent of the 150,000 respondents were healthcare professionals. These workers were only slightly less likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices than the general population. Furthermore, the study found that during the survey years (2002 to 2013), these problems grew among heathcare workers at the same rate as non-healthcare respondents. Healthcare professionals were less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise, but on average they consumed more alcohol than others included in the survey. The findings could mean that even among highly educated healthcare professionals, health education initiatives may only be so successful.
Gal Dubnov-Raz, M.D., a sports and exercise specialist at Israel's Sheba Medical Center, said that more data is needed to determine what professionals in the healthcare field are more vulnerable to certain behaviors. The respondents cited by Jena and Dayoub were lumped into one group of health workers rather than separated by specific job. This echoes earlier research finding healthcare professionals are no healthier than the general public, FierceHealthcare previously reported.
University of British Columbia's Erica Frank, M,D., told Reuters that in the end, healthcare workers are just people like everyone else.
"We aren't just docs, we are still also women and men, and are subject to the same environmental and social influences as are others," she said by email. "We tend to preach to patients what we practice ourselves-- o we should be thoughtful about that and not compromise patient care because we can't square it with our behavior."