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Importance of Nutrition

Nutrition is a key component of health – and a difficult area to effect lasting change in patients. As Health.gov emphasizes here, “support and active engagement from various segments of society are needed” to create better, lasting outcomes.

Rola shared in her post in November how providers and care teams can and should consider the biopsychosocial elements of health when addressing nutrition with patients and their families. Food access, time and resource constraints, cultural norms and expectations, and individual health concerns all play a significant role in nutrition.

Community health centers have a unique opportunity to positively impact healthy eating. In addition to serving as the source of primary and preventive care for over 24 million Americans every year, health centers often provide supportive services to deliver integrated care, which enable patients to receive holistic care from multiple providers – physicians, nutritionists, therapists – at the same time to give patients the best information to lead healthy lives. Providers can tailor their conversations based on their awareness of patients’ medical histories and cultural norms, along with the environment and resources of the community, which increases the likelihood of motivating patients to change their eating habits and maintain those changes over time.

Recommendations for Healthy Eating

In honor of National Nutrition Month, some recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that you can share with your community include:

  1. Keep it simple. Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated.
  2. Be mindful of portion sizes. Eat and drink the amount that’s right for you.
  3. Include a variety of healthful foods from all the food groups on a regular basis.
  4. Select healthier options when eating away from home.
  5. Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.

Providing guidance to patients through health education programs and regular conversations about nutrition needs and expectations can create a dialogue around what healthy options are – and barriers that may be preventing patients from making those choices. As health centers deliver care to the most vulnerable individuals, these conversations can help staff connect patients to available resources.

Understanding staff members’ baseline knowledge about nutrition can help health centers tailor individual learning plans to ensure all care team members are consistently promoting healthy habits, regardless of their area of practice. Educating staff on best practices for navigating cultural differences also helps to build a foundation for successful discussions around healthy eating.

Health centers deliver care to the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families, and resource constraints, lack of food access, or other socio-cultural factors can easily derail patients’ efforts to make healthier nutrition choices. By preparing your staff to promote healthy choices in a culturally respectful way, you can help reduce the barriers to improving the health of your population.

Creating better health habits that last means meeting people where they are. Relias helps community health centers assess and develop staff competencies so they can do just that – and deliver better health outcomes.

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