Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


College of Education and Human Services


Nutrition and Food Studies

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Lauren Dinour

Committee Member

Doreen Liou

Committee Member

Melanie Shefchik


Nurses--Nutrition--New Jersey, Food habits



Nursing is the largest health care profession in the U.S. There are 3.1 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide, over four times as many as there are physicians. Hospital nurses have a vital presence in the healthcare industry as highly skilled professionals who perform the essential service of patient care on the front line. Research points toward an association between work environment and nurse outcomes. Several studies have linked favorable nurses’ work environments to improved patient experience and care quality. The purpose of this study is to identify the factors that influence hospital nurses’ eating practices during their shifts.


A qualitative research method was chosen in order to probe into the factors that influence what, how, and when nurses eat during their shifts amidst the high-pressure profession of patient care. Twenty female hospital nurses in New Jersey who work 12-hour shifts were recruited to participate in a semi-structured interview. The Social Ecological Model (SEM) was chosen to assess the factors influencing the nurses’ eating practices through four levels of influence; individual, interpersonal, organizational and public policy. Atlas.ti qualitative data analysis was utilized to analyze responses and uncover major themes of influence.


A majority of nurses (65%) expressed dissatisfaction in their eating habits. Eleven themes describing the factors that influenced their eating habits emerged and were categorized under four major headings; occupational and shift characteristics, hesitation to take breaks, influence and availability of unhealthy food, and organizational and industry policy. The sub-themes more specifically identified the factors that led to nurses’ discomfort in taking breaks, which in turn, prevented satisfactory eating habits. Their perceived inability to take breaks was due to patient load, the unpredictability of patient needs, their reluctance to place the burden of additional patient load onto other nurses, their tendency to prioritize patient care over self-care, and the repercussion of working longer hours to complete their work. Other factors included the presence of unhealthy “junk” food options, food and beverage regulations that restricted the ability to eat and drink, and the need for more staffing.


An intervention using leverage points from all four levels of influence should be implemented to enable nurses to take sufficient meal breaks. Hospitals and the American Nurses Credentialing Center should take steps to provide a more accommodating eating environment for nurses during their shifts. Positive nurse outcomes are linked to job-satisfaction, higher patient care quality, and fewer errors. Hospital nurses require a work environment that supports the break time necessary for satisfactory eating habits.

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