Authors

  1. Morse, Kate J. RN, CCRN, CRNP, MSN

Article Content

As the weather beams with sunshine and warmth, my thoughts turn to getting out of the gym and exercising outdoors. Spring is also the time that I complete all of my age-appropriate health screenings and annual physicals. This element of self-care (exercising, health screening, and good health habits) impacts my personal life and can impact how my patients respond to my advice. In addition to the personal responsibility for good health habits, do we have a professional responsibility?

  
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Nurses are charged with educating and providing patients with the tools to change their health behaviors for the best, but the question is, would it have more impact on our patients if they knew and trusted that we also participated in healthy behaviors? What do we know about nurses' health habits?

 

The Nurses' Health Study (NHS), established by Dr. Frank Speizer, was conducted in 1976 and funded by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers investigated the potential long-term consequences of oral contraceptive use. The NHS II, established by Dr. Walter Willett, took place in 1989 and was also backed by the National Institutes of Health. The primary motivation for developing the NHS II was to study oral contraceptive use, diet, and lifestyle risk factors in a population younger than the original NHS cohort.1 The NHS II sample size was 116,686 women between the ages of 25 and 42 in 1989. Every 2 years, cohort members received a follow-up questionnaire with queries about diseases and health-related topics, including smoking, hormone use, pregnancy history, and menopausal status. Blood and urine samples were also collected in the 1990s. The response rate was 90% for each 2-year cycle, and the participants received a newsletter which outlined the progress of the study. Since the inception of the study, hundreds of articles have been published. Nurses have provided an invaluable contribution to research. However, with regard to health behaviors, the data showed we did not have the same level of commitment.

 

The five good health criteria that have been studied with the data from the NHS were a healthy weight, nonsmoker, at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily, a healthy diet, and a moderate use of alcohol. Since a healthy diet consists of many habits, scientists specifically looked at a high-fiber diet low in saturated and trans fats, with limited sweets and refined grains. Only 3% of the women in these studies met all of the standards, but those who did were far better off in terms of their health. The other women developed almost five times more heart problems and 10 times more diabetes than those who met all of these standards.

 

These data illustrate that on the whole, we nurses do not have better health habits than our patients. I encourage you to reevaluate your personal health habits and health risks. If change is needed, discuss it with your primary health provider and design a plan of change that will be successful for you. I also encourage all of you to explore the Web site http://www.nurseshealthstudy.org to see the contribution and dedication nurses have shown as participants in these long-term studies. We need to apply this dedication to making positive health changes in our own lives, and by personal example, help our patients lead healthy, more productive lives.

 

Kate J. Morse, RN, CCRN, CRNP, MSN

 

Editor-in-Chief, Director of Nurse Practitioners, Chester County Hospital, West Chester, Pa. Nursing2007CriticalCare@wolterskluwer.com

 

REFERENCE

 

1. The Nurses' Health Study. Available at: http://www.channing.harvard.edu/nhs/history/index.shtml. Accessed June 15, 2007. [Context Link]