Healthcare professionals' role in nutritional care
According to the World Health Organization, health is defined by “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO Constitution, 1946). Healthy dietary patterns are one of the most important health determinants. Evidence shows that non-communicable diseases, responsible of 41 million death each year (74% of all deaths globally), can be prevented when adopting a healthy diet (WHO, 2023). Dietary recommendations are then essential and should be supported by healthcare systems and their actors. Indeed, healthcare practitioners play a key role in healthcare systems as they are primary sources of referrals and are greatly trusted by the general population. Yet, it has been shown that nutritional care remains insufficient from healthcare practitioners due to a lack of knowledge, time, and tools to enhance the dialogue with patients (Carter et al., 2023).
The Global Fruit and Veg Newsletter of this month presents three articles confirming the importance of nutritional care in healthcare systems and gives tools for practitioners to improve their ability of providing some.
The first article is based on a clinical consensus that discusses practical approaches to how nutritional care and promotion should be undertaken in primary and secondary care and in public health. It highlights the need to incorporate nutritional counseling for all individuals and bringing primary prevention at the center of patient’s healthcare. The paper also shows the importance of nutrition in cardiac rehabilitations programs, in sports medicine to avoid nutritional supplements and for children with cardiovascular diseases to provide the appropriate support and nutritional counselling.
The second study explores the impact of a nutrition education intervention on the dietary habits, competencies and self-efficacy of Ghanaian medical students. This intervention improved nutrition care knowledge and increased the consumption of vegetables by enhancing dietary diversity among medical students. Their ability, confidence, and awareness to provide nutrition care to their patients improved as well. This article highlights the effective impact of including nutrition education in the medicine curriculum.
The last article investigates the “patient-general practitioner” interactions according to the patient’s body weight. It was found that the higher the degree of the patient’s excess weight was, the greater the disagreement between patients and general practitioners was, especially on questions related to weight. It was also shown that overweight and obese patients tend to have a different perception of the causes and consequences of excess weight. This study highlights the importance of the dialogue in consultations with patients, especially on weight-related topics. The authors encourage physicians to develop communication skills and train in motivational interviewing to improve their relationship with their patients.
Together, these three articles place nutritional care at the centre of healthcare systems and show how a nutrition formation can lead to an improvement of the physician’s ability to provide nutritional counselling. They also highlight the importance of the dialogue to address the topic of weight, beyond practitioner’s’ nutritional knowledge to maintain great interactions with patients.
Raluca Zoitanu is a family doctor in Bucharest, Romania with a special interest in quality improvement and patient safety, health systems and digital health. She used to be the president of the National Federation of Family Medicine Employers in Romania and WONCA Europe Executive Board and European Young Family Doctors Movement Executive Group member.