One of today’s health headlines states that “Medical students say they currently learn almost nothing about the way diet and lifestyle affect health”.
Much of what GPs see in practice are chronic, non-communicable conditions for which there are currently no cures. Many patients have multiple health problems which are triggered or kept going by lifestyle. Conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, depression, obesity account for 50% of all GP appointments.
Life expectancy in the UK has increased, but this hasn’t been matched by improvements in levels of ill health. The truth is we are living longer, but sicker. Spending more years in ill health has a cost impact on the NHS. Public Health England has published data stating that behavioural risk factors make the greatest contribution to lost years in death and disability with unhealthy diet topping the list at 10.8% and tobacco coming a close second at 10.7%.
There is clearly a huge opportunity for preventive public health. There have been recent campaigns to educate the public about making lifestyle changes, but what I commonly find is that people know what the public health messages are, but are unsure how to implement them, or think that those changes are not compatible with their lifestyle.
Recently I have been giving talks to groups of local GPs, and have been impressed by their interest in how lifestyle medicine can help their patients. I talk about lifestyle and nutrition interventions for different groups of conditions, e.g. cardiovascular health, digestive problems and fatigue, and the GPs are always eager to learn simple effective interventions to tell their patients.
As a nutritional therapist, I spend much of my time, working with individuals, educating them about lifestyle factors that they may be affecting their health and showing them how to make small steps in order to initiate change. Many people want to improve their health but don’t know how, think it is too expensive or that they don’t have the time. I love showing people ways to help themselves that are compatible with their lives.
As a private practitioner, I charge clients for my services; however, I would love to see a time when there is a nutritional therapist in every GP practice in the UK. I see this as a way to help people to make manageable changes in their lifestyle, improving their health and eventually leading to cuts in NHS spending on chronic health conditions.
Department of Health (2012). Report. Long-term conditions compendium of Information: 3rd edition
NHS Digital, 2016
Public Health England, 2015