Nutrition Therapy Helps Patients Emotionally, Research Shows

November 03, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- People who receive nutrition counseling to help control an illness don't just eat better -- they often feel better emotionally and more in control of their condition, a new study suggests.

About 57 percent of 400 patients visiting a registered dietitian for one session said they felt better emotionally after the visit. Nearly 65 percent said they felt in control of their illness after nutrition counseling.

"When people improve their diet, it helps contribute to their sense of emotional and physical well-being and gives them a feeling of control over their health," said M. Rosita Schiller, professor of medical dietetics at Ohio State University.

The research appears in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The researchers followed up on 400 patients who received nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian at either the Ohio State University Medical Center or the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Two hundred patients were seen at each institution. The patients had either been hospitalized or referred to outpatient nutrition services at one of the facilities.

The dietitians completed a patient information form during each counseling session. Researchers phoned all patients within eight weeks of the session to assess the patients' understanding of their diets, changes they anticipated as a result of counseling and any health-related changes that had occurred.

Nearly half of the patients were referred to counseling to help control heart disease. Others had diabetes or other conditions that could be affected by diet. About 44 percent of the patients reported improvements in health, such as weight loss (38 percent), feeling better physically (37 percent) and improved blood pressure (5 percent).

Most of the patients (88 percent) said they felt the dietitian's advice suited their individual needs. Almost 83 percent said they now knew which foods to eat, and 62 percent changed their diets because of the counseling.

The biggest complaint -- 16.5 percent of the patients -- was the high cost of recommended foods.

Historically, clinical nutrition services focused on a modified diet, not on the patient. Often, a physician or other health-care professional would briefly explain dietary requirements to the patient, who would then be expected to follow the new regimen at home. While the tendency today is to make patients take more responsibility when it comes to diet, Schiller advocated more intervention on behalf of the patient.

"Research now shows that patients who have at least three sessions with a registered dietitian are more likely to follow their diet," she said.

The point is to educate the patient on the value of diet in controlling a condition while making sure the new diet fits the patient's lifestyle.

"The idea is to manage the disease up front in a way the patient can live with it and prevent or delay long-term problems," Schiller said.

This study was funded in part by a training grant received from the Bureau of Health Professions.

Co-authors included Mary Miller, director of nutrition and dietetics at Ohio State University Medical Center; Katherine Mulligan and Amy Dunn, senior dietitians at Ohio State; Cindy Moore, director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic; and Eileen Davis and Peggy Zeller, clinical dietitians at the Cleveland Clinic.
Written by: Holly Wagner

Ohio State University

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