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The obesity epidemic is dangerous for nurses

The obesity epidemic in the United States can't be ignored. Some studies put the obesity rate at a stunning 35 percent. It's part of the reason that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., taking more lives than all types of cancer combined.

The risks aren't just to those who are overweight, though. Nurses who have to help them in the hospital are at risk. Overweight patients can and do lead to injuries when nurses are trying to assist and move them.

Imagine that you've always taken your health seriously. You go to the gym four days a week, you watch what you eat and you take the stairs when you can. You often ride your bike to work at the local hospital. You don't do much weight training, but you're generally fit at 120 pounds.

Then you're asked to move a man who weighs 300 pounds, and you need to do it yourself. This is a person who weighs more than twice what you do all on his own.

You don't want to be rude. You want to help. But you have to question whether or not you're physically able to do it. That's the reality you face.

One nurse said she could see the trend of weight gain in the hospital, and she noted that it made even routine jobs difficult.

Practical ramifications

For instance, she said that patients often needed her to get them a bedpan. If the patient was smaller, closer to her own size, she could do it herself. There was no problem. However, when the patient was obese, then she'd need help from two to four other nurses.

There's a realistic issue here: By quadrupling the workforce needed for the job, it makes it far harder to find that workforce. Nurses simply aren't walking around in groups of four or five in case they're all needed.

She mentioned that she'd usually have to wait. It took time to find more nurses. When she did, some of them would be busy, so she'd wait longer until they got done with other tasks. What may have taken seconds with a smaller patient could take far longer with an obese patient just because of all of these new steps.

That said, when someone urgently needed a bedpan, she pointed out that it wasn't always possible to tell them to hold on and wait. A lot of the time, she said that's when nurses put themselves in dangerous positions. They'd try to rush and do far more than they physically could do, and they'd get hurt. She said shoulder and back injuries were common, and nurses were sometimes out of work for months while they healed.

Working in a hospital comes with many risks, and obesity may make them worse. It's important for those who get hurt to know their legal options.

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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