In a time where our diets are poorer than ever, the need for easily accessible and sensible nutrition advice is absolutely vital. As dietitians and nutritionists we are often battling it out against celebrity chefs to get our evidence-based, educated nutrition messages across, and let’s be honest, it can be bloody hard work. More often than not, patients referred to a nutrition professional are seeking treatment for preventable lifestyle diseases. But what if there was a way for nutrition messages to reach these patients BEFORE they end up sitting opposite a dietitian needing a total diet make-over? Who is a trustworthy source of health information that most people visit on a fairly regular basis? Did I hear you say the GP (General Practitioner)? You betcha! We must recruit the GPs to join our team and the time is now!
The doctor’s office seems to be our first port of call for just about any health issue we face, including vitamin deficiencies, stomach upsets and conditions in which nutrition plays a key role (e.g. diabetes, heart disease). Therefore, it is paramount GPs are equipped with adequate knowledge and confidence to respond to such issues when they arise within their patient population.
Currently, whether GPs are appropriately skilled to be handling these delicate dietary scenarios is debatable. Most (91%) Australian GPs are interested in supporting their patients to consume a healthy diet, and ~70% are confident in their ability to deliver lifestyle messages for some common conditions e.g. cardiovascular disease  Crowley, J., O’Connell, S. Kavka, A. Ball, L. Nowson, C.A. (2016) Australian general practitioners’ views regarding providing nutrition care: results of a national survey. Public Health, 140, 7-13. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27692586 . Even though most GPs (90%) surveyed in a 2016 study felt confident to deliver nutrition education to prevent and manage CVD, less than half (46%) could confidently recall being taught such a topic during their time at university. Rather, this topic had been covered during professional development activities for 66% of GPs surveyed  Crowley, J., O’Connell, S. Kavka, A. Ball, L. Nowson, C.A. (2016) Australian general practitioners’ views regarding providing nutrition care: results of a national survey. Public Health, 140, 7-13. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27692586 . While it is concerning that our current GPs had very little nutrition training during their time at university, the inclusion of nutrition in professional development activities is a step in the right direction as the importance of nutrition is increasingly recognised and acted on.
The story is going to be much different for medical students graduating in the near future as dedicated people continue their hard work towards integrating increasing quantities of nutrition education into medical degrees. The addition of basic nutrition science, evidence-based nutrition for disease prevention and treatment, as well as food sources of nutrients will ensure this foundation knowledge is ingrained and expected in all graduating doctors. Steps towards the widespread inclusion of such nutrition areas – as well as others – are currently being taken, including the development of the Nutrition Competencies Framework which has been included in the Australian Medical Council’s Graduate Outcome Statement. Having GPs that are equipped and confident with such nutrition knowledge will arm them with the ability to have an even greater positive influence on the lives of their patients.
So what does this mean for dietitians? We’re not expecting GPs to become complete nutrition whizzes. What we are expecting them to be able to do is offer basic nutrition advice around disease prevention and treatment to their patients whom they see on a regular basis, and incorporate a genuine care for nutrition within their consults. Referral on to specialist dietitians will continue to be vital as it is today, and hopefully overall we will have a much healthier and nutrition-aware society with less chronic disease. And that sounds pretty good to me.
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|1.||⇪ab||Crowley, J., O’Connell, S. Kavka, A. Ball, L. Nowson, C.A. (2016) Australian general practitioners’ views regarding providing nutrition care: results of a national survey. Public Health, 140, 7-13. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27692586|