The U.S. does not rank last in many things, but when it comes to preventable diseases and deaths among high-income nations, that is exactly where we sit. As a country, we are not healthy, and while it can’t all be attributed to just one thing, our nutrition is a big part of the problem.
It is no wonder why the acronym for the Standard American Diet is SAD. Diet Coke, McDonald’s, doughnuts, sugary coffee drinks (is it pumpkin spice season yet?), and supermarket aisles lined with ultra-processed foods make for a pretty SAD state of affairs when it comes to our nutrition in this country.
That said, you would think that doctors would agree that their patients could benefit from better nutrition advice. After all, a little education could go a long way in steering people towards healthier food choices and more positive health outcomes.
According to a recent survey of over 1,000 physicians, doctors said that only 55% of their patients could benefit from some nutrition advice. According to obesity and preventative medicine experts, that number is pretty low.
Preventative cardiologist Steven Devries said it best, “If the question is what percentage of patients could benefit from some nutritional guidance from a health professional, the true number is much higher than 55%; in fact, it’s 100%.”
Obese Americans need education from a healthcare system, not just maintenance once they’re already sick
Three-quarters of U.S. adults are overweight or have obesity, and at least 50% have prediabetes or diabetes. How can doctors justify thinking that only 55% of their patients could use some additional nutrition advice? That doesn’t make any sense.
This can only be explained by the fact that we don’t have a health care system here in the U.S. We have a “sick-care” system that is rarely proactive and only provides care once someone is sick. Our healthcare system is set up to help the diabetes patient manage their insulin or to help the hypertension patient manage their high blood pressure. But the system is in no way set up or incentivized to guide those same patients so that they never end up with those conditions in the first place.
On the bright side (I guess), a little more than half of the physicians who responded to the same survey said they viewed nutrition counseling as essential or a high priority. However, the problem cited by most doctors is that there simply isn’t enough time to discuss nutrition when seeing a patient.
That’s right. We have a system that incentivizes doctors to see as many patients as possible and not necessarily provide the best, most comprehensive preventative care. Most primary care physicians spend just 13 to 24 minutes with their patients. That isn’t enough time to discuss the nuances of proper nutrition and develop a plan to improve your dietary habits.
The key takeaway? We would be in a better place if doctors placed more emphasis on nutrition in their practices. Unfortunately, we have a system that makes it difficult and puts all incentives in the wrong places. Hopefully, things will change in the coming years. With preventative and functional medicine gaining momentum over the past few years, there is hope that we are headed in the right direction.
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