Monday, August 26, 2013

Time for Docs to Get Out of the Food Wars

In Food Fad Fantasyland, rotund patients can see their primary care physicians and discuss the merits of Atkins versus South Beach vs. [insert name here].  Armed with the latest nostrums, patients go forth and diet until the next twerk comes along.


While physicians and the for-profit care management vendors can disagree about many things, one thing they can agree on is the ability of their corpulent patients to swear by an endless number of diets.  Whether its "low carbs" or "Mediterranean" or "mini-fasts," docs and coaches alike are expected to not only endorse these fads, but deploy insider jargon like DMCB spawn watching the MTV Video Music Awards. Taylor Swift was crooning about... who?

Which is why, after reading this JAMA Viewpoint article, the Disease Management Care Blog agrees that it's time call a time-out.  It's also time for the DMCB primary care colleagues to exit.

The DMCB explains.

Drs. Pagoto and Appelhans point out that when it comes to weight loss and risk factor reduction, there is no research that convincingly proves that one dietary approach is superior to any other.  Outside of individual preference, the mix of nutrients makes no real difference.  Instead, say the authors, what's important is adherence.  In other words, once patients embark on their preferred diet, they have to stick to it.

Unfortunately, that message has been lost in the multi-billion dollar faddism that has come to dominate the food industry marketplace.

Skeptics will point out that getting persons to stick to a particular diet is a fool's errand.

Not so, say the JAMA authors. Pointing to the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study, The Da Qing Diabetes Prevention Study and the Diabetes Prevention Program, they note that long-term behavior change that includes behavioral modification and lifestyle change is very possible. 

"Hear hear!" says the DMCB.

As most doctors are aware, most health insurers (including Medicare) don't really reimburse enough to meaningfully cover the true costs of life-style related counseling.  What's more, selective memory recall means that physicians generally remember just how often their counseling leads to their individual patients being as fat as ever.  Most of us physicians are not that good at coaching anyway.

Which is why the DMCB thinks dietary counseling should be outsourced outside of the doctors' offices.  The good news is that wellness and health promotion programs are becoming more adept at focusing on patients' adherence to lifestyle change, mostly by finding those with a willingness to change. It's then a matter supporting those individuals over the course of a year or more. 

This is just one example of the approach.  There are more to come.

The DMCB conclusion

1. Docs should be "agnostic" when it comes to one diet fad vs. another.  It's patient preference.  Next.

2. What really counts is adherence to long-term lifestyle change.  Since many physicians are not good at that kind of long-term coaching, better to let other programs offer their wares to insurers.  The key for these programs is to focus on lifestyle change for those patients who want it and can accomplish it.

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