When it comes to the practice of medicine, the old adage “practice what you preach” should be reversed to “preach what you practice.” Physicians must serve as role models for healthy habits and lifestyle choices. An overweight doctor who smokes is hardly the example a patient should see, much less trust in the advice they give. Doctors should also embrace the other tried and true adage which says, “actions speak louder than words.”
I recently attended the TedxManhattan conference, which offered a wealth of information about changing the way we eat and encouraging healthy eating habits both at home and among patients. I have always believed that eating healthy, maintaining a normal body weight, and exercising more are three critical tenets when it comes to preventing cancer and/or its recurrence. In our DOs and DON’Ts blogs over the last two months, we discussed strategies for making healthy choices at the grocery store as well as while eating out. With a little planning and care, good nutrition and healthier living are possible for everyone.
At the conference, the speaker that left me with the most to think about was Dr. Robert Graham, an alternative medicine guru. Dr. Graham is the Director of Resident Research and the Director of Integrative Health in the Department of Internal Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, and has been a leader and innovator in the field of alternative medicine for the past ten years. His presentation focused on the crucial relationship between food and health. Dr. Graham explained that 80% of the chronic diseases in this country are preventable through lifestyle changes, and that “a pill for an ill” is not an effective approach to medicine. He believes that healthcare providers have a responsibility not only to treat illness, but to educate their patients about nutrition and healthy habits.
How Are Our Doctors Doing?
According to a 2012 Gallup poll , doctors are doing better than nurses and other healthcare workers in terms of smoking, eating healthy and exercising. The report states that less than 5% of physicians smoke as compared to 15% of nurses and 20% of other healthcare staff members. Physicians exercise more, but when it comes to eating and health issues related to food, it’s a mixed bag. Physicians are more likely to have high cholesterol and suffer a heart attack compared to other staff, but they are less likely to be overweight, have diabetes or suffer from high blood pressure.
The results of a second Gallup poll conducted in July of 2013 showed that things are moving in the right direction . Specifically, the report states that 71% of Americans say their doctor does commonly discuss the benefits of engaging in regular physical exercise and 66% share the benefits of eating a healthy diet.
What Should We Expect from our Doctors?
Physicians should routinely convey the importance of healthy behaviors to their patients. Further, physicians who practice healthy habits themselves play a key role in helping their patients adopt lifestyles which will aid in the prevention of chronic disease. Erika Frank, Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said in a 2009 study that, “health promotion counseling by providers is more effective than outsourcing counseling to a specialist or health coach, in part because patients view general practitioners as the most trusted source of health information.”
Physicians have to do more than “talk the talk” by handing out brochures about disease and treatment options. It’s time to “walk the walk” as well, by modeling for patients how to take charge of their health through smart lifestyle choices.