Interview with Julie Branham, Sodexo National Nutrition Director of Hospitals.
As the 2017 Quality of Life Conference date approaches, we sought out Sodexo experts to shed light on some of the key topics that will be discussed during the two-day international event. Julie Branham, Sodexo National Nutrition Director of Hospitals chimes in on improving patient quality of life through preventative nutrition.
In the US, the nation spends 86 percent of its healthcare budget1 on treating chronic diseases. What role can nutrition play in preventing diseases?
Julie Branham: Nutrition is just one component of a holistic approach to overall health and wellness, but it plays a significant role in preventing many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and obesity. When patients are identified with chronic disease risk factors earlier in life, a focus on nutrition can slow disease progression and in some cases, prevent the disease from developing all together.
In your experience, do patients often make this connection between preventative measures and their future health?
J.B.: It can be challenging to convince a young person who has never been ill about the correlation between what they eat today and the health outcomes they will experience five, 10 or 15 years from now. For example, a person with diabetes who doesn’t necessarily feel bad today may want to continue making unhealthful food choices – but in five years, as the disease progresses, they could feel the effects of those unhealthy choices.
Research shows that healthy behaviors such as eating nutritious foods determines 50 percent of an individual’s well-being, while medical care only determines 10 percent2. How do you reach out to individuals and convince them to take better care of themselves?
J.B.: Through Sodexo’s public health education programs, we work with people who are currently healthy, people who are at risk for chronic illness, and also people who have already been diagnosed with chronic illness. Overall, we strive to educate the population to stay healthy, avoid disease progression, and/or manage their current disease.
It is also important to note that in the US, societal norms – such as fast food, large portions, high sugar foods – doesn’t make it easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Once bad habits form, it can be difficult to reestablish nutritious habits.
I imagine that nutrition plays an incredibly important role in the hospital setting?
J.B.: Absolutely. Once a patient gets to the point where they are in the hospital, maintaining a healthy lifestyle becomes even more critical. Our Early Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) program puts dietitians in direct contact with patients before they enter the hospital. This multidisciplinary strategy seeks to ensure patients are well nourished prior to invasive surgery. A focus on nutrition can actually decrease complications, and improve recovery time, length of stay and patient satisfaction.
What kind of advice would you give to individuals looking to improve their health?
J.B.: Good nutrition is not a quick diet, it’s not something you can start today and see immediate results next week. It truly has to be approached as a lifestyle change that lasts for the remainder of your life.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/
2 Bipartisan Policy Center. (2012, August). “F” as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future. Retrieved from http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/reports/2013/rwjf407528
This interview was carried out in June 2017 in the context of Sodexo’s 2017 Quality of Life Conference dedicated to exploring new solutions around future quality of life needs.