Proper nutrition is an essential component of health maintenance. Qualified nutritionists and dieticians can help patients navigate the complexities of maintaining a healthy diet, but because these healthcare professionals are in short supply, nurses must often fill this role. A Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree can prepare nurses to assume these new roles in nutrition.
What Is the Nurse’s Role in Nutrition Counseling?
According to a report by Lippincott NursingCenter, there are not enough registered nutritionists and dietitians available to fill the health system’s demands. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were about 66,700 nutrition professionals employed in the United States in 2014. In contrast, the BLS reported about 2,751,000 working registered nurses in that same year.
A recent U.S. Department of Health & Human Services press release reported that 20 million Americans gained insurance from 2010 to 2016 after the passage of healthcare reform. With such a large influx of patients entering the system, nurses are largely responsible for nutrition counseling and education.
The fact that the nursing field employs more healthcare professionals than the nutrition field is just one factor that makes nurses a logical choice to assume roles in nutrition. According to the Lippincott report, nurses are also ideally suited for this role because they serve as the primary interface between patients and the healthcare system.
Importance of Nutrition Communication
The benefits of professional nutritional counseling are two-fold: preventive health care maintenance and patient recovery.
Preventing illnesses before they occur is in the best interest of the patient, and it is beneficial to the healthcare system. Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, are on the rise. According to an American Diabetes Association (ADA)-commissioned report, “The Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2012,” the total cost of diagnosed diabetes rose from $174 billion in 2007 to $245 billion in 2012. These costs include hospital care, prescription medications, diabetes supplies, physician office visits and nursing care.
The report also states that a patient with diabetes incurs about $13,700 per year in medical expenditures — $7,900 attributable directly to diabetes. The U.S. government assumes most of the cost for diabetes care via Medicare, Medicaid and military benefits. Put in perspective, the medical costs of a person with diabetes is about 2.3 times higher than someone without the disease.
According to a recent article in NPR Now, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that one of every three Medicare dollars goes toward patients with diabetes. To address these costs, the U.S. government is investing in preventive care programs. With an $11.8 grant from the Affordable Care Act, YMCA piloted a program aimed at those with a high risk of developing diabetes. Participants in the program met with a lifestyle coach each week to learn about diabetes prevention techniques, including developing healthy eating habits. The author, Allison Kodjak, says this effort saved Medicare about $2,650 per participant over a period of 15 months.
A reduction in costs was not the only benefit of the program: After just one year, the 42,000 participants reportedly lost an average of 5.5 percent of their body weight — enough to cut their risk of diabetes. According to the ADA, following proper nutrition guidelines is one of the most important things a person can do to reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications, including stroke and kidney disease.
Another reason to make nutrition a priority is the aging population. “The Future of Nursing” report, compiled by the Institute of Medicine (which changed its name to National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in 2015), states that 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 and older by 2030.
Proper nutrition counseling is also beneficial to patients recovering from illnesses. According to the Lippincott report, diet affects patient results during illness and recovery. It is an especially important issue for the elderly, who are often at risk of malnutrition and frailty. An inadequate diet can result in a downward spiral, preventing older patients from returning to good health.
Proper nutrition is essential to health and well-being. It is prudent in preventive care, and it is an essential part of a treatment protocol. Nutrition counseling can benefit patients, but unfortunately, there are not enough nutritionists and dietitians available to serve the healthcare industry’s needs. Nurses can help fill in the gaps by providing essential nutritional guidance to patients. Nutrition certification is currently not available for nurses, but a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree can help nurses prepare for their roles in nutrition. The online RN to BSN program at Louisiana State University of Alexandria offers a course called Nutrition in Wellness and Being, KINS 3010, that teaches students how diet relates to the prevention and intervention in disease.
Learn more about the LSUA online RN to BSN program.
Retrieved from Henning, Michael, MSN, RN, ANP-C. (2009, October) Nursing’s Role in Nutrition. Lippincott Nursing Center
Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Dietitians and Nutritionists. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook
Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Registered Nurses. BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook
Retrieved from HHS Press Office. (2016). 20 million people have gained health insurance coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, new estimates show. Hep
Retrieved from American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Complications. American Diabetes Association
Retrieved from American Diabetes Association. (2013). The Cost of Diabetes. American Diabetes Association
Retrieved from American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Healthy Eating. American Diabetes Association
Retrieved from Kodjak, Allison. (2016, March 23). Diabetes Prevent Program Will Save Medicare Money, HHS Says. NPR
Retrieved from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2010) The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. The National Academies of Sciences
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