PATIENTS TRUST NURSES. And with our knowledge of health and wellness, we have the potential to be a
healthy group of professionals who can serve as role models for a healthy lifestyle. As nurses, we know
healthy living results from many small choices to eat right, exercise, and get enough rest. But even though
we know what to do, many nurses struggle to practice what we preach.
At the 2010 House of Delegates, the American Nurses Association (ANA) adopted the “Healthy Food in Health Care” resolution. This resolution outlines how nurses and their employers can play an important
leadership role to the public by modeling good health practices and advocating for healthier foods. Because of the nature of their work, many nurses find it challenging to maintain a healthy diet on the job. ANA remains concerned about making sure nurses actually have breaks and time to eat something other than junk food. We’re particularly concerned that nurses who work at night have access to fresh, healthy foods.
In 2001, ANA conducted a health and safety survey, which revealed that stress and overwork were nurses’
top concerns. It also showed that nurses’ top stressor was regularly skipping meals and breaks in order to
care for patients. This habit contributes to grabbing “on-the-go” meals of less than optimal nutritional value.
A study of RNs by Sally Miller in published the May 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Academy
of Nurse Practitioners found nurses had a mean body mass index of 27.2. What’s more, nearly 54% of respondents
were either overweight or obese, and 53% of this group reported they lacked the motivation to make the lifestyle changes needed to lose weight. This is ironic, because nurses regularly give great advice to patients in terms of strategies to get healthy. We recommend eating small portions, drinking plenty of water, having regular meals, and including fresh fruits and vegetables in the daily diet. We tout the benefits of rest and relaxation. We know how to encourage our patients who have chronic pain, anxiety, or sleep disorders. We recommend activity, and we know how to adapt exercises for patients with depression, asthma, arthritis, or diabetes.
I want to tell nurses everywhere that it’s time to take our own advice.
In recognition of the challenges nurses face in the workplace and the increasing need to address overweight
and obesity, ANA created the “Healthy Nurse” program to motivate nurses and offer resources to help
them nurses get healthy. As ANA president, I encourage every nurse to take advantage of the resources we
are gathering to help you and your patients get healthy and stay healthy. Go to http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/WorkplaceSafety/Healthy-Nurse to find information on how to manage stress, increase physical activity, and adopt healthier
The good news is that people are starting to get the message. Healthcare employers increasingly are
offering wellness programs to promote healthy lifestyles for nurses and other healthcare workers.
Wellness programs at the community level are increasing, too—some in the form of outreach from hospitals.
Examples of these programs include creating bike paths and walking trails that link directly to hospital
grounds to encourage physical activity and healthier transportation options. I’m proud to say that nurses
are responsible for many of these positive changes.
When nurses take advantage of these opportunities to improve our own wellness, we model a healthy
lifestyle to our patients and our communities. Nurses must lead the way to change our lifestyles and set an
example for our patients to achieve optimal health.
ANA needs your input. What are your best ideas for improving nurses’ health? What programs or initiatives
are working in your community? Let us know by commenting at the ANA Facebook page: www.facebook.com/
AmericanNursesAssociation. Your experiences will help inspire innovation around this important topic.
Karen Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN
President, American Nurses Association