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J Public Health (Oxf). 2018 Dec 1;40(4):e482-e492. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdy047.

A qualitative exploration of the shift work experience: the perceived effect on eating habits, lifestyle behaviours and psychosocial wellbeing.

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School of Biological Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), Centre for Molecular Biosciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK.
School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.



Approximately 17% of the European workforce is engaged in shift work. How the experience of shift work impacts on the dietary and lifestyle practices of workers is unclear.


Overall, 15 focus groups were conducted by two researchers, with 109 participants. The initial focus group was carried out with both researchers present, to ensure consistency in facilitation. Both researchers thematically analysed all data collected.


Shift work was described as affecting many areas of workers' lives. Three overarching themes were identified: (i) impact on eating behaviour; (ii) impact on other lifestyle behaviours including physical activity, sleep, alcohol consumption, smoking; and (iii) impact on psychosocial health and wellbeing. There appeared to be overlap between the effect of shift work and the effect of individual internal factors in influencing workers' decision-making with regard to lifestyle practices.


Shift work affects many areas of workers' lives, negatively impacting on eating and lifestyle behaviours and psychosocial health. This study augments the current literature as it highlights the role internal motivation plays in workers' lifestyle choices. The research should help inform the development of public health strategies to minimize the impact of shift work, such as specialist behavioural change interventions specific to this group.


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