Breaking Bad Behaviors: Docs Urged to Act

Heart disease advisory calls for placing unhealthy lifestyles on par with physical indicators

(RxWiki News) The American Heart Association has looked at poor diet and seen the damage it has done. Healthcare providers are being called on to treat unhealthy behaviors as aggressively as physical risk factors.

Healthcare providers commonly check a person’s blood pressure, pulse and cholesterol for signs of heart trouble.

While they may consistently check these physical markers to assess cardiovascular health, they should be giving equal consideration to unhealthy habits, such as poor diet, smoking and being overweight, according to an American Heart Association (AHA) science advisory.

"Eat healthily and quit smoking to help protect your heart health."

Bonnie Spring, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago, served as lead author for this statement.

Entitled "Better Population Health Through Behavior Change in Adults," this call to action stresses that healthcare providers should establish “interprofessional practices.” Specifically, this means connecting patients to specialists who can help individuals with behavioral changes.

Healthcare providers need to be able to refer their patients to dietitians or psychologists if needed, according to the advisory.

The AHA advisory panel suggests that providers follow “the five A’s” to optimize care:

  • Assess a patient’s risk behaviors for heart disease.
  • Advise change, such as weight loss or exercise.
  • Agree on an action plan.
  • Assist with treatment.
  • Arrange for follow-up care.

The advisory states that "many providers say they omit the last 3 A’s because they perceive them as time consuming and feel they lack the needed counseling skills."

“We already treat physical risk factors that can be measured through a blood sample or a blood pressure reading in a doctor’s office, yet people put their health at risk through their behaviors,” said Dr. Spring in a press release. “We can’t measure the results of these behaviors in their bodies yet.”

Electronically tracking health behaviors (diet, smoking, weight, etc.) over time is a key part for measuring the effects of these behaviors, according to the report.

Also, Dr. Spring is calling for a change in insurance reimbursement policies so that services from dietitians, psychologists and other professionals who deal with behavior modification will be covered.

In order for interprofessional practices to work , reimbursement policies must be revised, Dr. Spring said.

The AHA says that eating right is one of the best weapons for fighting heart disease. The organization recommends eating foods that are low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, but high in whole grain fiber, lean protein and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

In addition, the AHA urges people to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (like brisk walking) each day.

This American Heart Association science advisory was published October 7 in Circulation.

Review Date: 
October 7, 2013