Recent studies indicate that the timing of food intake can significantly affect metabolism and weight management. Workers operating at atypical times of the 24-h day are at risk of disturbed feeding patterns. Given the increased risk of weight gain, obesity and metabolic syndrome in shift working populations, further research is required to understand whether their eating behavior could contribute to these increased metabolic risks. The objective of this study was to characterize the dietary patterns of police officers across different types of shifts in their natural environments. Thirty-one police officers (six women; aged 32.1 ± 5.4 years, mean ± SD) from the province of Quebec, Canada, participated in a 28- to 35-day study, comprising 9- to 12-h morning, evening, and night shifts alternating with rest days. Sleep and work patterns were recorded with actigraphy and diaries. For at least 24 h during each type of work day and rest day, participants logged nutrient intake by timestamped photographs on smartphones. Macronutrient composition and caloric content were estimated by registered dieticians using the Nutrition Data System for Research database. Data were analyzed with linear mixed effects models and circular ANOVA. More calories were consumed relative to individual metabolic requirements on rest days than both evening- and night-shift days (p = 0.001), largely sourced from increased fat (p = 0.004) and carbohydrate (trend, p = 0.064) intake. Regardless, the proportions of calories from carbohydrates, fat, and protein did not differ significantly between days. More calories were consumed during the night, between 2300 h and 0600 h, on night-shift days than any other days (p < 0.001). Caloric intake occurred significantly later for night-shift days (2308 h ± 0114 h, circular mean ± SD) than for rest days (1525 h ± 0029 h; p < 0.01) and was dispersed across a longer eating window (13.9 h ± 3.1 h vs. 11.3 h ± 1.8 h, mean ± SD). As macronutrient proportions were similar and caloric intake was lower, the finding of later meals times on night-shift days versus rest days is consistent with emerging hypotheses that implicate the biological timing of food intake-rather than its quantity or composition-as the differentiating dietary factor in shift worker health.
Keywords: caloric intake; chronobiology; chrononutrition; dietary intake; eating patterns; food choice; food timing; macronutrients; shift work.