Shifting the Messaging in a Lifestyle Disease

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • The statistic

     

    One in three Americans are expected to develop diabetes type 2 by the year 2050, and poor diet and the lack of ongoing and meaningful exercise are significant risk factors related to this projected statistic.

     

    The current recommendations

     

    Patients at risk for diabetes type 2, and those who have developed disease are told to lose weight, begin exercising, count carbohydrates, watch glycemic index of foods, avoid highly refined foods, and the specific messaging revolves around terms like “healthy blood sugar,” “blood sugar spikes,”  “blood glucose management,” “poor diet,” “sedentary life,” “cut the sugar,” and a host of other complicated or negative directives.  Some of the instructions or guidelines may seem simple and understandable, others tend to be strictly health–driven and others somewhat more sophisticated.  Even the more simple messaging, is somewhat of a turn off to patients who may be hearing it on a regular basis.

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    Patients and lifestyle

     

    There is no doubt that somehow health professionals need to provide education, guidance, support and motivation to patients at risk for diabetes, or to those who have frank disease.  We know that losing weight, engaging in fitness and even reducing stress can help to modulate blood sugar.  We know those habits can help many patients avoid disease, or at minimum reduce the dosage or number of medications that they are taking to treat the disease.  But behavior modification is challenging and foods that encourage weight gain and raging blood sugars really taste good, and frankly feel good – at least while they are being consumed.  So is the answer to demonize these foods?  Well, there also seems to be some research that suggests that artificially sweetened foods, though helpful to some patients with serious weight issues or with diabetes, may pose a problem to others.  And again, many of the artificially sweetened foods may be highly processed.  Another challenge is the fact that GI index applies well to fruits and vegetables and single ingredient or simple recipes, but not as well to complex processed foods or recipes.   Most people appear to understand the concept of limiting sugar, but the ingredient can be difficult to track because it has so many names.  And once you cut sugar, you may increase salt and fat to make up for lost flavor.  Very few patients, who cut the sugar in their diets, modify their food choices dramatically by embracing whole, simple foods.  It’s hard to be satisfied with simple fruits and vegetables when you were consuming loads of refined foods, it can be hard to access (fresh produce) and options like canned or frozen fruits are still not as popular.  There may also be cultural roadblocks to choosing better-for-you food.  So consumers trying to cur sugar and consumption of carbohydrates, tend to embrace diets like the Atkin’s diet, which recommends lots of proteins and fats.  Demonizing one ingredient may prod a person to reach for other foods that are equally problematic to one's health.

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    The conflicts in the health sector

     

    Research is still evolving on the best ways to prevent and treat diabetes.  It is certainly becoming clear that with ongoing rates of obesity, there is a dire need to get ahead of the projected diabetes type 2 statistics.  The food manufacturing industry is trying to figure out how consumers will deal with the sugar debate.  Will they simply avoid high sugar foods and drinks?  Will they avoid products that they assume are highly refined carbohydrates?  Will shoppers gravitate to foods that contain new ingredients that may help to modulate blood sugar (fiber and other yet-to-be-created blood sugar influencers)?  Will they try to identify better-for-you options (through label details)?  One thing is clear.  Consumers prefer when a food label suggests health as opposed to negative messaging.  And manufacturers see a surge in purchases when a food label can include an ingredient, accompanied by health claims.  Just look at how many labels now advertise whole grains, labels that suggest natural sugars, labels that shriek gluten-free and other “wholesome” ingredients.   Trends also seem to suggest that the supplement industry is engaged in a wave of research and development opportunities that would produce products that help to moderate blood sugar.

     

    A start

     

    Health professionals need to start the difficult conversation about weight and diabetes risks, and personalize the messaging, with some key basic and fundamental sound bites.  They need to explain the blood sugar issues that pose health risks, and then help patients to easily embrace simple lifestyle changes.  The pace of change needs to be personalized, and health professionals need to identify patients who respond better to positive messaging and “do’s” versus negative messaging and “don’ts.”  Patients need to realize that when it comes to obesity and diabetes, there will have to be some difficult choices.

     

    Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on local and national news and talk shows.  Follow my blogs at: http://www.healthcentral.com/profiles/c/86903

     

     

     

     

     

     

Published On: October 26, 2013