September 16, 2009
The leading causes of death in the United States - heart disease, cancer, and stroke - cost billions of dollars to treat, contributing to escalating health care costs. But you can lead a healthier life and reduce health care costs by making lifestyle changes.
President Obama is striving for prevention in health care reform, but what impact can we expect?
Research finds that when patients are counseled by a registered dietitian to change their diet, cost savings ensue.
In one study of 95 men, more than $60,000 was saved annually through avoidance of cholesterol-lowering medication.
Registered dietitians help people understand how certain nutrients affect health conditions and how to identify those nutrients in foods. They also help people set specific nutrient targets and realistic food options to hit their goals.
With guidance and through trial and error, individuals build a food routine that works for them. All they need is a readiness for change.
What's encouraging is more people - driven by a determination to avoid a lifetime of medication or to take charge of their health - are seeking out dietitians, rather than simply following doctor's orders.
The following case study exemplifies how you can reduce health care dollars and lead a healthier, more productive life.
"Kit knew her blood pressure was high but resisted going on medication. In three months of counseling (six sessions) with a dietitian, Kit learned how nutrients (sodium) in her diet can constrict her blood vessels or beneficially dilate them (potassium, magnesium, calcium), and how to choose foods to lower her blood pressure. She followed the research-backed DASH diet of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Kit lost 13 pounds and lowered her blood pressure to normal. She went from an average of 5,000 milligrams of sodium in her diet to the recommended 1,500 milligrams. As a nurse, Kit understood the impact: she had reduced her risk of heart attack and stroke, conditions that can be costly to treat.
Avoidance of a blood pressure medication saves approximately $1,100 annually. Consider the millions of Kits across the U.S. and it is clear: personal dietary responsibility can save billions of dollars.
"Kathy wanted to lower her cholesterol, which was high despite the fact that she was on medication. She was taught the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Program (TLC) of the NHLBI. She learned how to realistically lose weight, to enjoy different foods, new recipes, to lower her saturated fat from approximately 50 grams to the recommended 7% of her calories (11 grams), to increase soluble fiber to 5-10 grams, and to take 2 grams of phytosterols daily.
In six months Kathy normalized her weight (lost 42 pounds) and lowered her bad (LDL) cholesterol 64 points to normal. She discontinued her cholesterol medication (cost savings: approximately $54,000 over her lifetime) and decreased the risk of future costs - cardiac surgery, specialist appointments, hospital stays and rehabilitation care.
Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition and food science, and also a certified personal trainer. She is the nutrition director at Fitness Unlimited.
Readers may send questions about nutrition to Endyke at Fitness Unlimited, 364 Granite Ave., Milton, MA 02186, or e-mail her at email@example.com.
The information in this column is not intended to diagnose individual conditions. Readers should see their doctors about specific problems.