The Healthy Eating Halo Effect

Press Contact:Samueli

Alexandria, Va. - February  19, 2013

America’s obesity crisis is well-documented, as well its impact on the overall health of the nation through an increase in hypertension, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke.  While many are engaged in important efforts to help alleviate the obesity epidemic by encouraging changes in public behavior and convincing Americans to eat better and exercise more, some colleagues and I decided to focus our efforts on a different population: doctors and other health care professionals.

Previous studies have shown that doctors who practice healthy behaviors such as exercising, wearing a seatbelt or not smoking, are more likely to advise their patients to do the same. Could this healthy halo effect from physician to patient also include making healthier food choices? A new study released this week in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that might be the case.

Several years ago colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health and I partnered with the Culinary Institute of America to create “Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives,” a four-day conference focused on the state of the science in nutrition coupled with hands-on cooking demonstrations.

At “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives” health care professionals learn to identify healthy as well as less healthy carbohydrates, fats and proteins; practice performing a nutritional assessment, and learn when to refer to a registered dietitian. Conference attendees also focus on eating healthy on a budget and learn to prepare healthy, delicious meals for less than $3 per person.

Through follow-up surveys with participants we found that physicians who attended this four day conference reported significant changes in frequency of cooking their own meals, personal consumption of healthier food choices, greater awareness of their caloric consumption, and increased ability to assess a patient’s nutritional status and advise on nutrition and lifestyle habits.  Moreover, as predicted, physicians who ate more healthy diets were more apt to counsel their patients on healthier eating and lifestyle habits. 

The study is the result of a relatively small, self-reported survey, but the results are encouraging. Translating nutrition and behavioral science into healthy, delicious, and easy to prepare dishes for health care professionals has a direct impact on their ability to instruct patients on the most basic element of self-care: eating right.

David Eisenberg, MD, is an Associate Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Executive Vice President for Health Research and Education at Samueli Institute.

Help Support Samueli Institute's Initiatives

Our Key Initiatives:
 Military and Veterans Health and Wellness: Our programs provide drugless approaches to healing, wellness, and resilience for our nation’s heroes and their families through our work with the Department of Defense.
Integrative Medicine: We conduct rigorous research in complementary and integrative medicine to incorporate healing practices into health care.
Making Meaningful Change: We work with policy makers, community influencers, hospitals, health care providers, corporations and citizens to create a paradigm shift in the health care system from disease management to health promotion. 

Your donation is an investment in healing, wellness, and a healthier future for all of us.