Seafarers run a higher risk of becoming overweight compared to the general population, and nutrition is a key influencing factor. As choices of food on merchant ships are limited and the cook prepares all the meals, it is important for the health of seafarers to optimise the food supply on board.

To learn more about the nutritional situation, the research team of ZfAM and IVDP conducted on-board nutrition interviews and questionnaires.

The results were as follows. The diet on board was high in fat and sodium, but low in fibre, and the intake of nutrients in most seafarers did not meet the official recommendations. Additionally, foods and beverages consumed on merchant ships differ significantly from seafarers’ diets in their home country. Asian and European seafarers reported that they consume more fruit and vegetables, but less coke while they are at home. Furthermore, cultural differences were found in terms of all foods and beverages.

The results show the need for sustainable changes in the supply system on board merchant ships, in order to structure the catering in a more demand-oriented way, making it culture- specific and healthier overall.

Such changes are large-scale as well as small-scale, and need to address not only the cook but also all other levels involved in maritime nutrition, such as legal guidelines and how they are implemented by the shipping companies.

As a promising strategy for influencing seafarers’ choices and intake of food on board, the principles of nudging should be applied, e.g. offering fruits and vegetables as appetisers, and advocating vitamin-preserving cooking methods for preparing food.