Food/Nutrition Columnist
Nutrition Day US – Why Is It Important?
Nov 1, 2010 - 6:04:00 AM

( - Thursday, November 4th is nutritionDay in the US. It is part of a global initiative, nutritionDay Worldwide, to raise awareness of the prevalence and impact of undernutrition among patients in healthcare facilities. On nutritionDay, dietitians worldwide will record a snapshot of what their patients are eating along with basic information on the patient’s history and condition. This data will be sent and compiled at the Medical University of Vienna. Why is this research important to you? The next time you enter a hospital, rehab facility, or nursing home it could save your life.

Undernourished patients take longer to recover, stay in healthcare facilities twice as long, develop major complication twice as often, and are nearly three times more likely to be readmitted for health problems. This raises health care costs dramatically, nearly quadrupling patient charges, and increases hospital costs more than 4 times.

The solution – feed the patient and make sure that they eat the foods served. Studies show that up to 55% of hospital patients are undernourished. How can that be when so many American weigh too much? Weighing too much does not insure proper nutrition. Even severely obese patients can be malnourished – eating too much of the wrong food – leaving them at risk for health complications.

With all the remarkable advances we have made in medicine we still fail to recognize the role of nutrition in prevention and recovery. If a patient is on antibiotic therapy for an infection, insuring that they eat foods high in pre- and probiotics will help their friendly bacteria recolonize after being wiped out by drugs. If a patient has had surgery, high protein meals will aid healing. Extra calories may be needed to maintain weight and promote healing during recovery from accidents or burns. Nutrition should be used hand-in-hand with all other medical treatments offered. Sadly, it may not.

Often the physician and dietitian have little communication. Busy staff may not be able to observe and record each patient’s food intake. Did the patient eat lunch? Were they in their room during lunch? Was the lunch tray removed before they returned from tests or therapy and did they miss a meal? Were substitute choices offered if the patient didn’t like the meal served? Were snacks available and offered to make up for missed meals or to boost calories?

Was the patient weighed upon admission or was their current weight recorded? How often was weight checked during their stay to monitor weight loss? If a person is losing weight during their hospital stay, even if this trend cannot be reversed, steps can be taken to avoid excessive weight loss which will impact on healing.

In Europe, a patient cannot go without food for more than 24 hours. In the US there are documented cases where patients received no food for up to 18 days. Delay in providing nutrition support can be the difference between successful recovery or not.

In 1974, Charles E. Butterworth, Jr. published a seminal article, The Skeleton in the Hospital Closet. In the article Dr. Butterworth presented 5 case studies showing how proper nutrition intervention could correct problems with little effort or investment. Over 30 years and over 150 studies later, up to 50% of all hospital patients are still at-risk for malnutrition.

If you or a loved one has to be in a healthcare facility be pro-active.
Ask for a consult with the dietitian to see what the patient should eat to
help recovery.
Ask the physician or pharmacist if there are any food and drug
interactions you should be aware of.
Tell the staff about food allergies and food likes and dislikes so the best
choices can be offered.
Ask about snacking options. Can the patient have snacks? If not, why?
Where are the snack kept on the floor?
Visit during mealtimes to help with feeding. If you can’t visit during meals
ask the patient what they ate and how much. Report problems to
the staff.
Make sure to get instructions for a discharge diet and see if
follow-up nutrition consultation is available.

On November 4th let’s give the dietitians, nationwide, a round of applause for gathering necessary data that shows good nutrition can reduce length of stay, promote healing, and reduce deaths. Eating well does make a difference.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with 12 current titles and sales in excess of 8 million books. The books are widely available at your local or on-line bookseller.
Current titles include:
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2009
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
The Diabetes Carbohydrate and Calorie Counter, 3rd Ed., 2007

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to The Nutrition Experts

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