Friday, March 23, 2012

March is National Nutrition Month.

Since 1980, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) has sponsored this month-long campaign to remind consumers about the basics of healthy eating. The observance focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

Healthy eating and physical activity are fundamental cornerstones of a healthy life. They also are critical for preventing health problems such as iron-deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, dental caries, eating disorders, undernutrition, overweight, and obesity. As physicians and trusted health care leaders, let’s use this month to springboard year-long discussions with our patients about these topics.

There are barriers to healthy eating and being physically active that only community, state, and federal strategies can solve. But there is nothing like the transforming relationship between a physician and a patient to help break down the patient’s personal ambivalence and focus his or her attention where it is needed: on optimal nutrition and physical activity for sustenance, good health, and well-being. Lifelong eating behaviors and physical activity patterns are often established in early childhood, so these discussions should extend from infancy to older adulthood.

Yes, we all have time pressures. I am a primary care physician and understand the reality of schedules and limited time, but these conversations — like our pursuit of healthy eating and physical activity — are lifelong journeys with our patients. We have to begin with small, incremental discussions and seize every opportunity with our patients to address these topics. I encourage physicians to use resources such as the “5-2-1-0” message (5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, 2 hours or less of screen time per day for children over 2, 1 hour of physical activity per day, 0 sugar-sweetened drinks per day) to provide consistent and sound-bite advice. Simplify meal planning for patients with the USDA MyPlate visual guide (divide a plate into four sections: fill 1/2 with fruits and vegetables, ¼ with grains, and ¼ with proteins, and add a glass representing dairy products). Sharing this tool will help patients easily understand how to incorporate the recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines into every meal and set a healthy eating pattern for life.

We owe it to our patients to proactively help them establish a strong foundation for their health and life. Let’s begin today.

Kimberly Avila Edwards MD, FAAP 
Austin Regional Clinic Kyle Plum Creek

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