In recent years, national health authorities have placed significant efforts on fighting Obesity, as it is the main cause of many dietary-related diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer, with significant costs to governments and national incomes. In spite of this, the concept of including a vital service such as Nutrition therapy in hospitals’ treatment plan still remains largely unattended.
Further to this, despite the noticeable revival of related services, especially in the area of complementary therapy, little has changed with regards to nutritional offerings. It is true that we all need food to nourish our body, to survive, socialize, entertain, express our gratitude, sooth our senses etc., yet we tend to ignore its very contribution to health and wellness when it comes to hospital planning and design. Maybe we are all too familiar with food since we ingest it in almost every hour of the day in some shape or form and hence its impact on our health and wellness takes relatively back stage.
Surprisingly, in spite of the huge growth of the private health industry in recent years, the role of Nutrition within such a prosperous environment has yet to be fully acknowledged. The majority of hospital, clinic and centre planners, developers, investors, owners and directors appear to be somewhat hesitant of encompassing such a ‘less-accentuated service’ into their menu planning. There is a general reluctance and apprehension with regard to the viability of Nutrition in an overwhelmingly treatment-based environment. Such reluctance may stem from the engraved lack of appreciation of the financial effectiveness of such a service and the role it can serve to patients/clients, owners and shareholders. Its perceived roles seem to be limited to the vaguely understood concept of dieting and/or diet sheets. And despite the general awareness of the role of diet in health and wellness, many hospital strategic planners hospital do not seem to put this into practice within the clinical environment (probably because hospitals are traditionally associated with the treatment of the communicable diseases, rather than addressing the inner health of the individual in the wider sense become a nutritionist.
However, in recent years Nutrition at large has gained enormous popularity, as today’s generation are indeed becoming more health conscientious and more and more studies have substantiated the link between today’s modern diseases which are largely non- communicable in nature and nutrition. Contrarily, the prevalence of overweight and obesity, particularly amongst adults, continues to grow to a record high, being described as the most common and fastest growing epidemics in the Western world. It is estimated that more than 35% of the US population are obese, and Europe is not far behind from following this trend. In fact it has recently been revealed that approximately one in four (25%) of the UK population is currently obese, and this is predicted to rise to 50% by the year 2030. Nevertheless, only one in four obese patients (25%) receives treatment and those who do seek assistance have a 90% chance of failure. We have known for years that overweight and obesity are most prevalent in the affluent nations, which are characterised by wealth and an abundance of convenient and ready-made foods. This is complicated further by a sense of lack of time for meal preparation and a high-tech environment leading to a passive environment and sedentary lifestyle.
Amongst the public at large, there seems to be little progress as to how to tackle the worsening obesity epidemic. There is also confusion between healthy eating, which ought to be adopted by everyone and the ongoing taboo of dieting. Furthermore, little attention is given and inadequate effort is put into actively changing certain lifestyle factors, which are imperative to achieving optimum health and wellbeing. Indeed, the intensive commercialised advertising of health and diet-related products and services, combined with inaccurate advice given by seemingly unregulated industries coupled with the presence of unqualified or self taught practitioners and the so called dieting gurus, has certainly made it difficult for the layperson to differentiate between what is sound advice and what is merely a good marketing gimmick. As a result, much of the efforts made by national and international health organisations (often led by healthcare professionals) to counteract these odds fall short of reversing the obesity epidemic.
Undoubtedly, the private health sector is well positioned to provide a wholesome approach to nutritional wellness. The majority of private hospitals, have the preliminary infrastructure to cope with such demands. For instance, nearly all hospitals are equipped with or have access to the most up to date diagnostic laboratories and treatment procedures, as well as the required medical and nursing staff and evidently a pharmacy. Indeed, these are the key prerequisites to any clinical establishment willing to embark on this fast growing market. What is subsequently required from such institutions is to enhance their existing services by adding a dedicated Nutrition and Dietetics centre led by properly trained staff, a well equipped fitness centre run by qualified instructors, a well resourced physiotherapy department, well-trained catering staff and possibly a swimming or thalassotherapy pool.
It is true to say that different hospitals offer different services, and the level of focus on Nutrition may vary from one establishment to another. However, it is also true that improving overall health is gaining popularity, driven by genuine and measurable market demands and a widespread public awareness of the relationship between diet, nutrition and health. In order to achieve the desired results for both patients/clients and owners, Nutrition services have to be combined with other core services, such as Medical, Complementary, Fitness, Food and Beverage, together with strong PR and Marketing initiatives.
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Dr Asma B Omer, Founder & Managing Director of Therapia, is a highly qualified and experienced Consultant in Human/Clinical Nutrition, with more than 20 years experience in university teaching, research and health industry. She has been very successful in the treatment of Overweight and Obesity, and has much practical experience in the management of nutritionally related diseases in both the National Health Service (UK) and prestigious organizations in the private sector.
Academically, she holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry and an MSc in Human Nutrition from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, UK. Professionally, she is a Fellow Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, a full member of the British Nutrition Society (NS) and the British Dietetics Association (BDA) and a professional member of the Association of the Study of Obesity (ASO), Diabetes UK and HEART UK. In addition, She is a founder member of The Medical Advisory Committee of ISPA Europe, a member of the Institute of Directors (UK) and a former consultant nutritionist for the WHO.