“The Role of Nurses and Nutrition in Promoting Patient Health”:
Nutrition plays a fundamental role in human health and well-being. The old saying that “we are what we eat” holds true, as a balanced diet is essential for preventing disease and supporting recovery from illness or injury. While dieticians and nutritionists specialize in advising people about nutrition, nurses are often on the frontlines of healthcare and well-positioned to educate patients. With a solid understanding of nutrition principles, nurses can promote healthy eating habits that strengthen individuals and communities.
The Link Between Nutrition and Health Outcomes
Strong evidence links nutrition to health outcomes. A balanced diet high in nutrients and low in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt can prevent chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (Knight, 2020). These “lifestyle diseases” are among the leading causes of death and disability worldwide (Patience, 2016). Nutrition also affects how the body responds to acute illness – those who are malnourished face greater risks and slower recovery (Xu et al., 2017). In hospitals, nutritional screening at admission reveals many patients are already undernourished, underscoring the need for preventive nutrition education (Xu et al., 2017).
The Nursing Role in Nutritional Education and Counseling
Nurses interact directly with patients across various healthcare settings. Those in hospitals focus on the dietary needs of the acutely ill to support recovery. Community nurses promote healthy habits to prevent disease (Patience, 2016). Both play a role in nutritional education. Simple conversations at the bedside can highlight healthy hospital foods and nutrition’s role in health (Patience, 2016). Competent nurses prepare presentations for community clinics and events, developing literature and engaging students through interactive programs (Patience, 2016). The goal is empowering patients and the public to make informed choices to protect their health through diet.
Nutrition Education in Action
Several initiatives illustrate how nurses effectively promote nutrition. In the UK, community nutrition nurse specialists provide one-on-one counseling and group education sessions (Knight, 2020). Evaluations found the role improved patients’ diets and self-management of conditions like diabetes (Knight, 2020). In Singapore, home visits by nurses and dieticians educated elderly residents about balanced diets (Chong et al., 2019). Follow-up assessments showed improved nutrition knowledge and intake of nutrients like protein (Chong et al., 2019). In the US, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program employs paraprofessional nutrition educators to deliver multi-session curriculum (EFNEP, 2022). Impact studies link the program to positive dietary behaviors (EFNEP, 2022).
As frontline healthcare providers, nurses are well-positioned to promote nutrition education that supports individual and public health. Whether through bedside conversations, community outreach, or structured programs, nutritional counseling by nurses empowers patients and communities to make informed choices protecting health through diet. With a solid understanding of nutrition principles, nurses can play an active role in disease prevention and recovery through nutritional guidance. Overall, nursing efforts in this area hold great potential for strengthening populations through improved dietary habits and nutrition.
Chong, W. W., Lee, J. J., Tham, K. Y., Leow, M. K., & Kua, E. H. (2019). Effectiveness of a home-based nutrition education programme on nutritional status of community-dwelling older persons. Journal of clinical nursing, 28(7-8), 1221–1230. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.14734
EFNEP. (2022). Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. United States Department of Agriculture. https://nifa.usda.gov/program/expanded-food-and-nutrition-education-program-efnep
Knight, Janet. “Community nutrition nurse specialist role: a service improvement.” British Journal of Community Nursing 25.2 (2020): 76-81.
Patience, Sara. “Advising patients on nutrition and healthy eating.” British Journal of Nursing 25.21 (2016): 1182-1186.
Xu, Xiaoyue, et al. “Where is the nurse in nutritional care?.” (2017): 267-270