Registered Dietitians Can Do Much to Help Educate Americans and Eliminate Health Disparities in U.S., Says Former Surgeon General

CHICAGO, Feb. 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Former U.S. Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu urged members of the American Dietetic Association to draw on their science-based nutrition knowledge and patient-care skills to prevent diseases such as obesity and diabetes, to help eliminate health disparities that exist in the United States and to educate Americans to take charge of their nutrition, health and well-being.

Moritsugu, who was Deputy Surgeon General from 1998 to 2006 and Acting Surgeon General from 2006 to 2007, delivered the keynote address February 8 for ADA's Public Policy Workshop, an online meeting of more than 1,000 Association members to update them on ADA's 2009 legislative priorities and activities.

Moritsugu is now chairman of the Johnson & Johnson Diabetes Institute and a member of ADA's Board of Directors. He noted he is not only a colleague and observer of registered dietitians, he is "one of your clients. I have Type 1 diabetes and have received counseling from several dietitians regarding my diet and dietary practices. You have played, and continue to play, a significant role in my continuing health and well being; as well as that of America."

Referring to registered dietitians as "the credible and recognized experts in food and nutrition and diet," Moritsugu urged RDs to share their knowledge, skills and science base to "help policy makers make better decisions for the public good. Make your voices heard. You connect the dots between good diet, good choices and good health. And you keep the focus on the patient at the center of what we do."

In reviewing the current state of the country's health-care system, Moritsugu said the system "has not yet fully realized the importance of prevention in the overall health equation. In our country, where overweight and obesity are affecting more than two out of three Americans, and overweight and obesity are associated with Type 2 diabetes, this is an excellent example of what is wrong with our health-care system, when only 5 percent of our health-care dollar is spent on prevention and 95 percent is spent on fixing things after they are broken."

Moritsugu called for the country to develop a "patient-centric" model of health care based on "a stable and balanced triangle" of research, accessible practice and responsible policy. However, he said, "a widespread problem is seriously inhibiting our progress." That problem is low health literacy, which he defined as "the ability of an individual to access, understand and use health-related information and services to make sound, thoughtful health decisions. Indisputably, low health literacy contributes to disparities and impacts health," he said.

"People with low health literacy are less likely to know how to navigate the health-care system, understand basic health information or get preventive health-care services. They are more likely to use expensive emergency care services and to be hospitalized more often and for longer periods of time," Moritsugu said, noting nearly nine in 10 American adults "lack the skills needed to take care of their own health or know how to prevent disease."

Language and cultural barriers "add another layer of complexity," Moritsugu said. "Every day, public health care professionals are witnessing the health literacy gap. This gap is the chasm of knowledge between what professionals know and what patients understand. And the problem is bigger than many of us perceive. We need to build bridges between what we as health professionals know and what our patients understand."

Moritsugu said it is the responsibility of health professionals such as registered dietitians "to communicate in such a way that those we serve can hear, understand, embrace and ultimately put into action, the knowledge, the science, the evidence, the counsel that we provide them, so they can make better health decisions for themselves."

He added: "As the people we serve, better appreciate and understand health information we provide to them, they will be better equipped to take care of themselves and their families. And the health of our communities improves as well."

The American Dietetic Association is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org.

SOURCE American Dietetic Association



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