Supporting patients with healthy weight, beyond the scales

The South West Healthy Lifestyles Working Group, a collaborative between WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) and WA Country Health Service (WACHS), recently hosted an education event in Bunbury focused on equipping health professionals with the skills and confidence to start the conversation about weight with their patients and empower behaviour change.

Emceed by Dr Leanne Abas from South West Aboriginal Medical Service and attended by GPs, practice nurses, nutritionists and other allied health professionals from across the South West, the event offered valuable insight into changing the way we talk about weight.

Board Director of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr Jenny Brockis, presented at the session on how lifestyle medicine principles can make a difference to supporting patients manage a healthy weight. Her key points included:

  1. The world’s second leading cause of disease and premature death is overnutrition. Obesity is associated with over 30 other diseases.

    (L-R) Dr Wietske van der Velden-Schuijling, Dr Leanne Abas, Dr Jenny Brockis and Andrea Vermeersch.
  2. As practitioners, we worry that our patients aren’t heeding our advice, but why would they if they have little confidence in our ability to help (ouch) and don’t feel listened to?
  3. We need a new strategy that is patient-centred and focused on the multitude of factors that contribute to excess weight gain to overcome the stigma and shame.
  4. It’s not the individual’s fault. We live in an obesogenic environment, a place that encourages unhealthy eating. How near is your closest fast-food outlet? We are at the mercy of industrialised food processing that strips the original whole foods down to a mush of stripped, bleached squidge with an assortment of colouring, flavourings, sweeteners, preservatives, and emulsifiers added. Then it’s touted as healthy, fat-free or gluten-free or with “natural flavourings”! No wonder there’s so much confusion, misperception and misinformation around what “healthy” food really is.
  5. Food insecurity, lack of knowledge, lack of cooking skills, and lack of time add to the issues. We, as health practitioners and members of our communities, can work to rectify this with cooking classes, shopping classes, and encouraging schools, workplaces, and food outlets to provide healthy options. The day of demonising certain foods or food groups is over.
  6. The key lies in working with the individual to create their own goals and using health coaching to support them in their journey to healthy eating, taking the focus off foods and individual nutrients and working towards a better eating pattern that suits their lifestyle, preferences and culture.

The session also showcased other services and resources available for health professionals to support their patients and clients including:

  • WAPHA’s SHAPE website of tools, resources and education to support health professionals to sensitively engage with patients around weight.
  • Several of WAPHA’s commissioned service providers in the South West, including GP Down South who provide the Integrated Chronic Disease Care program, and Diabetes WA who provide a free telehealth service for people living in regional WA with Type 1, Type 2 or gestational diabetes, aged over 16 years.
  • WACHS South West Population Health Unit presented on the HEALTM Program (Healthy Eating Activity & Lifestyle).
  • Dr Wietske van der Velden Schuijling from Donnybrook Medical Services spoke on how to use shared medical appointments to support patients to make healthy lifestyle changes.
  • The Cancer Council showcased Live Lighter, including resources such as online calculators, meal plans and physical activity guides to support patients in adopting healthy lifestyle changes.
  • The South West Healthy Lifestyle Directory, a resource to help people living in the South West region to eat well and be active by linking them to local services and activities.