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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Physician nutrition and cognition during work hours: effect of a nutrition based intervention

Jane B Lemaire1*, Jean E Wallace2, Kelly Dinsmore3, Adriane M Lewin4, William A Ghali5 and Delia Roberts6

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Professor, Department of Medicine University of Calgary Health Sciences Center 3330 University Drive NW Calgary, Alberta, T2N 4N1, Canada

2 Professor, Department of Sociology University of Calgary 2500 University Drive NW Calgary, Alberta, T2N 4N1, Canada

3 Faculty of Kinesiology University of Calgary 2500 University Dr. NWCalgary, Alberta, T2N 4N1, Canada

4 Department of Community Health Sciences University of Calgary TRW Building Ground Floor3280 Hospital Drive NW Calgary, Alberta, T2N 4Z6, Canada

5 Professor of Medicine Department of Community Health Sciences University of Calgary TRW Building 3rd Floor3280 Hospital Drive NW Calgary, Alberta, T2N 4Z6, Canada

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

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:241  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-241

Published: 17 August 2010

Abstract

Background

Physicians are often unable to eat and drink properly during their work day. Nutrition has been linked to cognition. We aimed to examine the effect of a nutrition based intervention, that of scheduled nutrition breaks during the work day, upon physician cognition, glucose, and hypoglycemic symptoms.

Methods

A volunteer sample of twenty staff physicians from a large urban teaching hospital were recruited from the doctors' lounge. During both the baseline and the intervention day, we measured subjects' cognitive function, capillary blood glucose, "hypoglycemic" nutrition-related symptoms, fluid and nutrient intake, level of physical activity, weight, and urinary output.

Results

Cognition scores as measured by a composite score of speed and accuracy (Tput statistic) were superior on the intervention day on simple (220 vs. 209, p = 0.01) and complex (92 vs. 85, p < 0.001) reaction time tests. Group mean glucose was 0.3 mmol/L lower (p = 0.03) and less variable (coefficient of variation 12.2% vs. 18.0%) on the intervention day. Although not statistically significant, there was also a trend toward the reporting of fewer hypoglycemic type symptoms. There was higher nutrient intake on intervention versus baseline days as measured by mean caloric intake (1345 vs. 935 kilocalories, p = 0.008), and improved hydration as measured by mean change in body mass (+352 vs. -364 grams, p < 0.001).

Conclusions

Our study provides evidence in support of adequate workplace nutrition as a contributor to improved physician cognition, adding to the body of research suggesting that physician wellness may ultimately benefit not only the physicians themselves but also their patients and the health care systems in which they work.