[5 min read] The importance of nutrition care in general practice

Why is it worthwhile for general practitioners to be knowledgeable in nutrition?

GP visits for chronic disease management increased substantially between 1998 and 2008. Patients presenting for the management of hypertension increased from 8.3 to 9.9 per 100 encounters; type 2 diabetes mellitus from 2.6 to 3.7; and lipid disorders from 2.5 to 3.7. In 2010, chronic disease management made up over a third of consultations for GPs.

Guidelines from the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (AIHW) and The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners stress the importance of dietary advice in the management of chronic disease. GPs are very well placed to provide this advice to patients, in light of Medicare data showing that GPs are the leading provides of nutrition care in the country, ahead of accredited practising dietitians.

Yet, statistics suggest that there is inadequate guidance and management of nutrition in the Australian population. For example, a report by the AIHW found that 63 per cent of Australian adults and 26 per cent of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity is a major public health issue and among the leading risk factors to ill-health in Australia.

Further studies have found that the Australian diet across various life stages is inadequate:

  • 99 per cent of Australians do not eat enough vegetables and 77 per cent do not eat enough fruit.
  • Most Australians eat too much food that is high in energy and low in nutrients (discretionary food or ‘extra food’—including alcohol).
  • Most Australians eat too much sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
  • Most Australians don’t exercise enough.

These issues can be addressed by improving patients’ nutrition habits, which can lead to a reduction in symptoms of chronic disease. GPs have the power to influence the nutrition-related behaviour of their patients, who hold them in high regard and see them as experts in this field. However, evidence shows that GPs may not be providing an adequate level of nutritional care to patients with chronic disease. This may be because GPs are unsure of the role they play in a patient’s nutritional care, or because they lack the knowledge to effectively guide their patients.

Change in nutrition behaviour can improve health outcomes in patients with chronic disease, and GPs are ideally placed to facilitate that change, provided they have sufficient knowledge in the field.

 

Source: Ball, L. (July 2011.) Nutrition care in general practice. Australian Family Physician. Vol. 40, No. 7.

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