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The importance of good nutrition in preventative healthcare

In recent years a greater focus has been placed on the importance of supporting and educating people to make positive lifestyle changes. By living healthy, active lives people reduce their risk of developing disease and long-term conditions later in life. Jill Curry is the Dietetics Services Manager in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and she explains how dietitians play a vital role in preventative healthcare.

Earlier this year dietitians all around the UK were marking Dietitians Week by sharing positive stories and examples of best practice.  The focus was placed on how dietitians ‘do prevention’.

As health and social care services have developed over the years, it has been recognised that treating people when they become ill is more costly than developing programmes to prevent people from becoming ill in the first place.  Preventative healthcare increases people’s quality of life and can reduce the costs associated with the treatment of chronic illness.

The importance of preventative healthcare cannot be understated, particularly in relation to malnutrition.  Malnutrition is a serious condition that occurs when a person’s diet doesn’t contain the right amount of nutrients.  It means poor nutrition and can refer to:

  • Undernutrition – not getting enough nutrients
  • Overnutrition – getting more nutrients than you need

For the purposes of this blog when I refer to malnutrition I am focusing on undernutrition.

Affecting around 68,000 people in Northern Ireland, the annual healthcare cost associated with malnourished adults is £590 million.  It is an often under-recognised problem which makes people more susceptible to illness, keeps them in hospital for longer and lowers their quality of life.

Aware of this startling statistic, dietitians within the Northern Trust have taken positive action to help Trust staff, patients and their carers understand how to avoid malnutrition in a number of ways.

  • We have developed a training programme that enables ward staff to better identify patients at risk of malnutrition and subsequently provide appropriate care to help people to gain weight and recover more quickly.
  • Our Condition Management Programme Dietitian helps individuals to make better lifestyle choices in order to assist them in returning to work.
  • Our integrated rehabilitation Dietitians support patients who have recently been discharged from hospital and who may require assistance in the community to reduce the risk of re-admission.
  • Our regional Prescribing Support Dietetic team supports colleagues in primary care in the prevention, identification and management of malnutrition outside of the hospital setting.
  • Diabetes Specialist Dietitians deliver group education programmes for patients and their carers so patients will be empowered to make improvements to their lifestyle which reduces the risk of complications from long-term poor control of their blood sugars.

As well as malnutrition, obesity is also a growing problem.  There are a number of exciting developments in the Northern Trust to help people understand the importance of good nutrition and living an active and healthy lifestyle.  One such example is our COOK IT! programme.

The Cook It! Programme is a six week “hands on” nutrition education programme based on the Eatwell guide and is delivered by trained tutors.  It is designed to support individuals within local communities to enhance their practical cooking skills and learn about eating a healthy balanced diet on a limited budget.

We also have a community-led weight loss management programme called “Choose to Lose” and we engage with the voluntary and community sector to improve people’s awareness of the importance of good nutrition.

If you’re interested in our work and want to keep up-to-date with what’s happening, why not follow me and some of my colleagues on Twitter?  @jicurryDSM (Jill Curry, Dietetic Services Manager); @marshall_paula (Paula Marshall, Health Improvement Dietitian); @HSC_PSRD (HSC Prescribing Support Dietetic Team) and @BDA_Dietitians (British Dietetic Association).

Have you had experience of dietetic services yourself?  Have you ever thought about how your diet may affect your health?   Tell us in the comments section below!


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A Gamble 25-Aug-2018 at 12:29 hrs

I agree that the Northern Trust is doing a good job of educating patients but it is difficult when you live alone to cook sensible food. I have been diagnosed with diabetes and attended the Desmond Course run by the S E Health Trust. It was interesting and I initially lost weight because I was afraid of the consequences but then I lost interest. On the question of exercise I also have arthritis and asthma. I first wrote to the Chief Exec of the PHA in 2014 and asked him to consider Ladies Only Gyms instead of using the Council run Leisure Centres, where the majority of participants are older sweaty males, or young athletic males. There were 5 male trainers to 1 female trainer. I found this very off putting because I am overweight/disabled and would prefer an all female environment. I again wrote to senior management in the PHA several times and was informed that there were no plans to replace the provision from the council with a mix of males, and I have to say very few females! This isn't good enough as I have spoken to many females who all feel the same as I do and would like female gyms, particularly for older people. When you are disabled with, for example, asthma and arthritis you cannot walk very far so 'diet' is very important. There are also many younger females who are overweight too and might prefer an all female facility using machines, and under the supervision of a trained female.
Also, I saw an advertisement for the Vedda Blood Sugar Remedy by Michael Dempsey and wonder if the Health Trusts are taking on board his philosophy for meals using specific vegetables and fruits, etc? He claims to reduce blood sugar levels dramatically, and the loss of weight rapidly in a natural way.


Charlie Lynn. 24-Aug-2018 at 19:22 hrs

Hello, just to say that I enjoyed reading the above article and learned a lot from it. I think it will make me more careful about what I eat in the future.


Phyllis Mc Goldrick 24-Aug-2018 at 16:30 hrs

I follow the OMS diet as invented by Professor George Jelinek and have almost eliminated dairy from my diet.Investing in a Magic Bullet has been very beneficial.The smoothies are easy to make and full of all the nutrients I need.


Yvonne Hutton 24-Aug-2018 at 16:12 hrs

Had been on steroids for 4 years and however hard I tried to ration what I ate ,it was appetite v rationing and sadly appetite often won so I put on a lot of unwanted weight. Am now very careful of my sugar intake . Had previously cut down on fats and indeed carbs. Trying to balance sufficient carbs to maintain a healthier intake. A complete low carb did not work for me. Owing to chronic arthritis I can't exercise the way I Used to but do try to keep moving .
My dietittion thought I wuss t eating enough!!


Joy Scott 24-Aug-2018 at 16:09 hrs

In the early 60s I was taught as a student nurse the importance of nutrition and the role of the diatitans in health care. This must continue to be a core component of the curriculum