When you think about treating chronic health conditions, you may focus on therapies to address those diseases. But there are other components to consider when it comes to curing, controlling and preventing illnesses: diet and nutrition.
“What and how much you eat and drink can ease or exacerbate your chronic health conditions. If you don’t have a chronic condition, changing your diet may keep you from developing one,” says Karen DePasquale, LSW, ACSW, associate vice president of Clinical Affairs and Business Operations at UPMC Health Plan.
Smart Business spoke with DePasquale about how diet can cure, control and prevent chronic health conditions, and why employers should use health coaches to encourage this in their employees.
What are some chronic diseases where your diet and nutrition can play a large role?
- Obesity: Eating more calories than you burn can lead you to become overweight or obese. This can cause serious health issues. Taking steps to address your diet and stop (or reverse) weight gain can positively affect your health.
- Diabetes: There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including age, race and genetics. But 90 percent of individuals with the disease are overweight or obese. Studies show that lifestyle changes — including weight loss and increasing your level of activity — can prevent or delay the disease’s development, according to the Obesity Society.
- Cardiovascular diseases: Eating an unbalanced diet high in saturated and trans fats and lacking in fruits, vegetables and polyunsaturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease and strokes. Consuming too much salt can cause high blood pressure, another major cause of cardiovascular diseases.
- Cancer: A healthy diet with adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk for oral, esophageal, stomach and colorectal cancers. Such a diet should also help you maintain a healthy weight, and that can reduce your risk for breast, kidney and endometrium cancers, according to a report by the World Health Organization.
- Osteoporosis and bone fractures: As you age, your bones can become more susceptible to fractures. To reduce your risk, you should consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, and make sure you are getting enough sun exposure and performing muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises.
- Dental disease: The acids and sugar in many foods and beverages can damage your teeth and gums. Limiting these foods can provide protection, as can getting regular fluoride treatments.
If you are at risk for any of these conditions or are dealing with one or more of them, remember that it’s not too late to make a change. Simple changes to your diet, in conjunction with your physician’s recommended treatment plan, can go a long way toward managing your chronic health conditions.
How can health coaching positively impact your workplace?
Having a healthy diet can cure, control and prevent chronic health conditions. Even so, it isn’t always easy for people to change what they eat and drink — especially in today’s always-on-the-go workplace. Employees are busy and can be tempted by unhealthy choices like fast food and vending machines. Sustained motivation through a health coaching program can make a significant difference in helping employees accomplish lifestyle change goals.
Health coaches are supportive, knowledgeable professionals and include licensed nurses, counselors, registered dietitians, social workers and exercise physiologists. They provide one-on-one telephone or online support, as often as needed, to help employees change their lifestyle or manage a chronic health condition that has changed their life. Health coaches help employees identify and tackle challenges to get them on the road to better health by setting goals and finding the best ways for members to reach them.
Offering a health coaching program lets your employees know you care about them, which can have a positive impact on morale and productivity. This type of program can also help you attract new talent and retain extraordinary employees.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan