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Food for thought: an exploratory study of how physicians experience poor workplace nutrition

Jane B Lemaire1*, Jean E Wallace12, Kelly Dinsmore3 and Delia Roberts4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Health Sciences Center, 3330 University Drive NW, Calgary, AB, T2N 4N1, Canada

2 Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4, Canada

3 Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4, Canada

4 Selkirk College, 301 Frank Beinder Way, Castlegar, British Columbia, V1N 4L3, Canada

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Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:18  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-18

Published: 18 February 2011



Nutrition is often a casualty of the busy work day for physicians. We aimed to explore physicians' views of their nutrition in the workplace including their perceptions of the impact of inadequate nutrition upon their personal wellness and their professional performance.


This is a qualitative study of a sample of 20 physicians practicing in a large urban teaching hospital. Semi-structured open ended interviews were conducted to explore physicians' views of workplace nutrition. The same physicians had agreed to participate in a related nutrition based wellness intervention study that compared nutritional intake and cognitive function during a day of usual nutrition patterns against another day with scheduled nutrition breaks. A second set of interviews was conducted after the intervention study to explore how participation in the intervention impacted these views. Detailed interview content notes were transcribed and analyzed independently with differences reconciled by discussion.


At initial interview, participants reported difficulty accessing adequate nutrition at work, linking this deficit with emotional (irritable and frustrated), physical (tired and hungry), and cognitive (difficulty concentrating and poor decision making) symptoms. In addition to identifying practical barriers such as lack of time to stop and eat, inconvenient access to food and poor food choices, the physicians described how their sense of professionalism and work ethic also hinder their work nutrition practices. After participating in the intervention, most physicians reported heightened awareness of their nutrition patterns and intentions to improve their workplace nutrition.


Physicians report that inadequate workplace nutrition has a significant negative impact on their personal wellness and professional performance. Given this threat to health care delivery, health care organizations and the medical profession need to address both the practical and professional barriers identified.