The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, two-thirds of all deaths will be attributable to chronic preventable diseases. Obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke are often linked to eating habits, and a growing number of doctors are working to help prevent these diseases by changing how we approach nutrition.
“So much of what we see is needless suffering and people don’t want to be sick. They’re frustrated, but they just don’t know where to start,” says Dr. Brian Asbill, a cardiologist at Asheville Cardiology Associates, Medical Director of Preventative Cardiology for Mission Health, and an ASAP board member.
He says it’s important for doctors to teach their patients how to live healthier lifestyles, especially when it comes to eating habits. “It’s teaching people how to move along the spectrum of nutrition, no matter where they start or no matter where they want to end up. When you eat a healthier diet and give up excess sugar, fat, and salt, you see measurable changes,” he says.
He says patients who participate in health improvement programs like the one at Mission significantly reduce their cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels. He adds that educating people about their health through a data-driven program can be the first step in making lifelong changes.
“So if you can get people started, that’s the first stage,” he says. “Then you have to eventually change the culture, and change the environment so that people are continually nudged to make better food choices, and move more, and do these sort of health promoting activities so you can make that healthy choice the easy choice.”
Doctors, researchers, and healthcare professionals are working to change the culture of healthcare by focusing on preventing diseases as well as treating them. Leaders in the field will gather in Asheville this August for a new conference called Healthy Eating in Practice, organized by ASAP, the Duke World Food Policy Center, UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and the Mountain Area Health Education Center. It’s a mix of panels and presentations from nationally-known speakers, plus farm field trips and cooking workshops.
“I think this conference is an ideal marriage of a lecture format with hands on sessions in the kitchen and field trips to local farms. I really think that if you change healthcare culture by supporting healthier eating patterns, you prevent a host of chronic diseases that I see on a daily basis,” says Dr. Asbill.
At the conference, he will team up with Chef John Fleer for a cooking workshop about navigating a plant-based diet. They will demonstrate how vegetarian and dairy-free meals can be fun and filling for patients who want to stick with their new healthy eating habits. “Food—in addition to being something that we need for nutrition—food should be fun,” Dr. Asbill says. “I think we need to teach people how to cook and we need to teach people how to make their food delicious.
Teaching patients that food can be both healthy and delicious is just the beginning. The conference is designed for physicians, nurses, nutritionists, educators, policy makers, and community leaders who want to improve the broader healthcare system. Attendees will learn about the intersection of farms, food, and health, and the evidence base for healthy eating. They’ll also learn ways to help patients eat well on a budget, and strategies for teaching kids healthy habits.
“What we want people to know is that what and how you eat makes a huge difference in your health,” Dr. Asbill says. “And we want people to leave this conference with practical skills that they can use in their personal lives as well as their clinical practices.”
ASAP’s Healthy Eating in Practice conference will be held August 26-29 at The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville. It’s an opportunity to connect healthcare professionals and learn new approaches for helping patients embrace healthier lifestyles. It’s also a chance to explore the food and farms of Western North Carolina and gain cooking skills to share with patients.
More information and registration for ASAP’s Healthy Eating in Practice conference can be found at www.healthyeatinginpractice.org.