Professor develops tool that helps dietitians deliver info clients need, can understand

If you've consulted with a nutrition educator about how best to lose weight or manage your diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, you may not have learned as much as you could have, said a University of Illinois professor of nutrition extension.

"Only 80 percent of the dietitians we surveyed did any pre-assessment of the client's nutrition literacy, which makes it difficult for educators to target their counseling so clients can understand and act on the information they are given," said Karen Chapman-Novakofski, also a registered dietitian.

Chapman-Novakofski's recent doctoral student Heather Gibbs has developed an that dietitians can use to determine precisely what knowledge and skills are required for a particular client.

"Some clients need to know how to manage their intake of macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Some need to learn about , and others have to be able to read labels. Still other clients must be able to categorize foods into groups. For each of these skills, we provide questions and exercises that assess the client's knowledge. Then dietitians will be able to better focus on what their clients need to know," she said.

Chapman-Novakofski said doctors and dietitians often don't initiate conversations that could help patients successfully manage their conditions. They may lack time or they may assume a background level of understanding that the client does not have.

"During a routine physical, your doctor may tell you that your blood pressure is high and that you need to watch your . But what does that mean to you?" she asked. "A better-case scenario would be for the doctor to ask if you can name some foods that are high in sodium. If you can't, then she knows you need to have a conversation about how to identify higher-sodium foods."

The doctor might further advise that simply avoiding added is not very effective in reducing . That's because add more sodium to foods before you cook them than most people could possibly add at the table.

"Until health professionals start asking questions to see what the patient knows, you don't get any effective behavior change," she said.

The researcher said that it's important sometimes for dietitians to narrow their focus. If educators understand why the client is there, think about what skills and information that person needs, and then do an evaluation to learn what the person's nutrition literacy is in that area, they can deliver the material in a way the client can understand and use, she said.

"In past years, nutrition educators have used education level to determine where to pitch their lessons. But national surveys have shown that's not a reliable indicator for a patient's health literacy, which is increasingly recognized as being important to patient care. A college graduate in an unrelated field may know very little about medical concepts," she added. If you're the one being counseled, don't be afraid to ask "how" questions, said Chapman-Novakofski.

"Make sure you know how you keep an eye on your condition. What should you keep in mind when you shop for groceries, eat out, or plan a meal? Don't be embarrassed or think everyone knows the answer but you," she said.

More information: Heather Gibbs, a recent U of I graduate who is now an assistant professor at Olivet Nazarene University, is a coauthor of the article, which was published in a recent issue of Health. To access "Exploring Nutrition Literacy: Attention to Assessment and the Skills Clients Need," go to www.scirp.org/journal/health .

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Otago research reveals most Kiwis eating too much salt

Dec 02, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Nearly two-thirds (65%) of adult New Zealanders are consuming more sodium than current nutrition guidelines recommend, according to analysis of urine samples taken from 3000 people who ...

Recommended for you

US judge blocks enforcement of new abortion law

23 minutes ago

A federal judge has temporarily blocked Louisiana from enforcing its restrictive new abortion law. But lawyers and advocates appeared to disagree about whether the judge's order affects doctors at all five abortion clinics ...

New toilets for India's poor, crime-hit village

22 hours ago

More than 100 new toilets were unveiled Sunday in a poverty-stricken and scandal-hit village in northern India, where fearful and vulnerable women have long been forced to defecate in the open.

Can YouTube save your life?

Aug 29, 2014

Only a handful of CPR and basic life support (BLS) videos available on YouTube provide instructions which are consistent with recent health guidelines, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the jo ...

Doctors frequently experience ethical dilemmas

Aug 29, 2014

(HealthDay)—For physicians trying to balance various financial and time pressures, ethical dilemmas are common, according to an article published Aug. 7 in Medical Economics.

User comments