Virginia Barbour, Jocalyn Clark, Susan Jones, Melissa Norton, Paul Simpson and Emma Veitch, editors of PLoS Medicine, said shift work is a common pattern of work in both the developed and developing world -- with about 15 percent to 20 percent of the working population in Europe and the United States engaged in shift work, particularly in healthcare.
However, shift work is notoriously associated with poor patterns of eating, exacerbated by easier access to junk food compared with more healthy options, the editors said.
"Working patterns should now be considered a specific risk factor for obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are currently at epidemic proportions in the developed world and likely to become so soon in the less-developed world," the editorial said. "Governments need to legislate to improve the habits of consumers and take specific steps to ensure that it is easier and cheaper to eat healthily than not."
Specifically, the editors suggested unhealthy eating could legitimately be considered a new form of occupational hazard and that workplaces -- specifically those who employ shift workers -- should lead the way in eliminating the hazard.