Almost 40% of workers in the construction industry are drinking large quantities of energy drinks, a new study shows.
Researchers from Griffith Business School also found that tradies and labourers with unhealthy on-site diets have very limited opportunity to change their eating habits for the better.
Extreme early morning starts, an intensely pressurised working environment and poor food choices are at the heart of the problem, the research findings reveal.
Workers were also generally unaware of the associated risk factors for chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease.
“The time pressures of the job mean that whatever is put in front of construction workers is what they’re going to eat,” Dr Rebecca Loudoun said. “They’re very active physically but the food they eat is nutritionally vacant or full of sugar.”
Dr Loudoun (pictured, left) led the research which was funded by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, under the Queensland Government Healthier. The study took place across six construction sites in Brisbane from February 2014 to May 2015 where the team interviewed and surveyed the attitudes and eating behaviour of site managers and construction workers.
“Many are skipping breakfast and replacing it with an energy drink,” she said. “This is often because of the very early start. Some workers were commuting from Caloundra to the north and Lennox Heads down south. They’re getting up for work at a time when their bodies do not want to eat breakfast.
“Energy drinks are marketed specifically to this group which is largely made up of young people who are time poor, cashed up and working physical jobs. They feel it’s what they need to get through the day.”
This raised concerns among site managers when researchers discussed the potential impact of high energy drinks on workers using heavy tools on a busy building site.
A key finding for Dr Loudoun is the need to stock on-site vending machines with healthy, nutritious alternatives to the standard vending machine fare.
“Healthy food needs to be put in front of them,” she said. “They loved the healthy food we gave them. They are not opposed to eating healthy food. They’re not opposed to changes on site. They just want a quick, satisfying meal and if that’s a healthy meal then great.
“However, the odds are against any workers who want to change their eating habits. This is a hard, transient industry, where directives are frantically coming from all directions.
“Managers need to be aware of the impact of their on-site decisions and strategies and learn to factor a healthy food environment into the architecture of the building site.
“There needs to be a much greater emphasis on nutrition, the importance of nutrition, and how a lack of nutrition affects those on site and what they do.
“The majority of workers we interviewed thought they were eating healthily, and were surprised to learn they were at risk.”