How diet could make a significant difference in chronic illness


A new study has highlighted the clear benefits of personalized nutritional support in community-based health services such as general medicine.

An important modifiable risk factor for chronic diseases is diet.

The increasing prevalence of chronic diseases is considered to be one of the greatest challenges for basic care.

The latest figures show that almost half (47.3%) of Australians have one or more chronic conditions – up from 42.2% in 2007-08.

New research led by Dr. However, Katelyn Barnes of Griffith University suggest that including dietary recommendations could make a significant difference in managing chronic illnesses.

To determine the cost of providing nutritional services to patients, the researchers reviewed nine studies conducted in Australia, the UK, Ireland and Europe. The enrolled patients had either cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, or malnutrition.

The results showed that nutritional care was “more effective in the short term than usual care”.

Dr. Barnes, whose clinical work focuses on chronic disease management, said there are clear benefits to having personalized nutritional support in community health services.

“The studies we looked at showed that a person who followed a healthier diet had fewer visits to the doctor, took less medication, and felt more productive for 3 to 24 months,” she said.

‘And [it’s] just a little more expensive. ‘

It is estimated that 20% of Australians suffer from multimorbidity. In 2019, endocrine and metabolic diseases, including diabetes, were among the most common health problems addressed by primary care practitioners.

Study co-author, Associate Professor Lauren Ball, said it is clear that general medicine has an “absolutely vital role” in either providing nutritional care directly to patients or connecting them to dietary services.

“They are the gatekeepers,” she told NewsGP.

“This does not mean that GPs have to do a comprehensive nutritional analysis or do what an accredited practicing nutritionist would do … [can make a difference]. ‘

However, there are still many barriers.

Associate Professor Ball says nutrition is not always a priority and that in some cases a lack of self-confidence – especially when it comes to the discussion of weight management – can be an issue, causing nutrition to fall by the wayside.

“Family doctors are so good at their intentions that you don’t want to risk putting a patient on the sidelines.

“Confidence in what to say and what advice to give are therefore definitely the most important ways GPs can be better supported to help patients eat healthily.”

However, a major factor is the insufficient consultation time and the fact that nutritional care does not yet have an MBS item number.

“Nutrition is something that many general practitioners consider important, but not necessarily feel that the service and system are structured so that it can be part of all consultations,” said Associate Professor Ball.

“Put it on the schedule as a recognized core component of care [is important]. ‘

The review suggests effective strategies to integrate nutrition into basic services, including:

  • take time for nutritional care in the usual counseling sessions
  • Investing in technology that supports positive eating habits between consultations
  • Financing of special nutrition and dietetics services in primary care.

Although the study authors found that food supplies are more expensive than regular supplies, the increase is within the recommended ranges for viable health investments.

Dr. Barnes said the results came in timely fashion as the federal government works toward the 10-year primary health care plan, and warned that neglecting diet would come at its own expense.

“Diet clearly plays a prominent role in our future health system,” she said.

“Overall, multiple parties, including governments, general businesses, health insurance and services, and individuals, benefit from improvements in a person’s diet through lower health spending and improved quality of life and economic productivity.”

Associate Professor Ball agrees. She says nutrition is often forgotten due to innovations in medical technology and treatment, but the evidence of nutrition’s benefits for health and wellbeing is undeniable.

“The more we invest in nutritional care, the better results we will get for patients,” she said.

“Overall, we will use fewer health services, use less medication, give fewer ED presentations, and save money.

“So I hope it will be mentioned in the 10 year basic plan because it certainly won’t go away; it is the number one modifiable risk factor for most of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality.

“The big question is how much do we want to invest in basic services?”

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Cardiovascular disease diabetes malnutrition diet obesity basic care

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