Health is Primary: Use New Year to Promote Fitness, Nutrition

Campaign Also to Focus on Primary Care Advocacy in 2017

January 11, 2017 04:27 pm Chris Crawford

As we enter 2017, the Health is Primary(healthisprimary.org) campaign from Family Medicine for America's Health(fmahealth.org) is refocusing its energy to communicate the value of primary care directly to health care policymakers, including those in the new administration and Congress.

This effort will include driving awareness of and support for value-based payment for comprehensive primary care among stakeholders and policymakers.

The campaign also will continue to provide family physicians with hands-on resources they can use to support patient care in their practices. Health is Primary has created a calendar(www.healthisprimary.org) of the year's themes that physicians can reference when promoting these messages and their accompanying resources to patients each month.

January Focus on Fitness and Nutrition

Because January is the time that many patients make resolutions to eat better and work out more, Health is Primary is promoting a focus on fitness and nutrition.

Story highlights
  • The Health is Primary campaign from Family Medicine for America's Health is refocusing its energy to communicate the value of primary care directly to health care policymakers.
  • The campaign also will continue to provide family physicians with resources they can use to support patient care in their practices.
  • Because January is the time that many patients make resolutions to eat better and work out more, Health is Primary is promoting a focus on fitness and nutrition.

The campaign aims to highlight the fact that patients with access to primary care can get ongoing, fact-based guidance about their nutrition and exercise -- plus the support they need to create positive lifelong health habits.

Health is Primary has created handouts on fitness(healthisprimary.org) and nutrition(healthisprimary.org) to bolster conversations with patients about these topics.

The fitness handout includes information on the benefits of regular exercise and how to make it a habit, offers tips on how to fit exercise into the daily routine, and answers other questions patients frequently ask.

The nutrition handout lists reasons why a patient may want to consider changing his or her diet, offers diet options, answers frequently asked questions, and includes an easy-to-read chart showing healthy food choices and what foods they could replace in a patient's current diet.

Approaching Fitness, Nutrition With Patients

According to a Health is Primary survey on nutrition and fitness habits of Americans in 2015, more than 80 percent of Americans were looking to make a change in their diet and exercise habits that year. However, fewer than half planned on consulting a physician before making these changes.

This provides an opportunity for family physicians to amplify a message of healthier living with their patients.

Bonnie Jortberg, Ph.D., assistant professor in the family medicine department at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora and a registered dietician, told AAFP News the easiest way family physicians can support their patients in decisions to improve their fitness and nutrition is to bring these issues front and center.

"For example, family physicians can say, 'It's the first of the year when many people set fitness goals. What fitness or wellness goals do you have in mind that I can help you with?'"

According to the same survey, four in five respondents considered their lifestyle to be healthy, yet half of them reported exercising two times or less in the two weeks before the survey.

To better explain an adequate level of exercise to patients, Jortberg recommended educating them while they wait to see their family physician.

"Most patients spend a fair amount of time waiting in their family physician's office, so a great way to educate patients is to have posters, brochures, videos, etc., in their office for patients to read/view while they are waiting," she said.

Additionally, Jortberg said queries about physical activity can be added to standardized questions. And when a patient responds that he or she is exercising fewer than five days a week, the family physician or staff member can use this as an opportunity to reinforce the positive behavior of getting in some exercise, and also engaging the patient in understanding the physical activity recommendations.

"For example, a family physician can say to the patient, 'I see that you are walking a couple of days each week, which is great for your heart health (or diabetes, weight management, etc.),'" she said. "'The recommendations for physical activity are 30 minutes on most days of the week (usually five days per week). How do you think you might be able to increase your physical activity?'"

When it comes to eating healthier, Jortberg said she usually asks a patient about one or two things he or she can improve about their diet. "Even when people tell you that they eat 'healthy,' they can usually come up with one to two things to improve," she said. "If they don’t come up with anything, I usually hone in on reducing sugar-sweetened beverages and increasing fruit and vegetable intake."

Finally, said Jortberg, leading by example can be a powerful way to promote healthy living. "Research shows that physicians (and medical staff) who themselves are physically active and eat healthy are more likely to make these recommendations to their patients," she said.

"Wear a fitness tracker that can be shown to patients, and if there are food or beverages available (or visible) in the office, choose healthier ones (water, coffee, tea, fresh fruit)."

Related AAFP News Coverage
Health is Primary: Engaged Patients Are Healthier Patients
Family Physician Says Patient Accountability Builds Engagement
(12/7/2016)

Health is Primary
Campaign Focuses on Healthy Aging for September
(9/14/2016)

More From AAFP
Overweight, Obesity and Fitness

American Family Physician: AFP by Topic: Nutrition

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familydoctor.org: Exercise and Fitness
(familydoctor.org)