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Few Heart Attack Survivors Get Expert Advice on Diet
  • Posted June 5, 2024

Few Heart Attack Survivors Get Expert Advice on Diet

Less than one-quarter of people who survive serious heart conditions receive the dietary counseling needed to protect their future health, a new study finds.

Only about 23% of people treated for major illnesses like heart attack and heart failure receive counseling on their diet within three months of hospitalization, researchers reported recently in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Nutrition counseling may reduce the risk a person has for cardiovascular episodes and disease, yet our research shows that the vast majority of patients, who are all at risk after significant heart events, are not receiving this essential education,” said senior researcher Dr. Brahmajee Nallamothu, a professor of internal medicine-cardiology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

For the study, researchers tracked nearly 150,000 patients seen for serious heart problems at hospitals across Michigan between late 2015 and early 2020.

Most of the patients who did receive dietary counseling got it as part of a cardiac rehabilitation program. Only 20% to 30% of eligible patients take advantage of such rehab, researchers noted.

Outside of cardiac rehab, doctors offered dietary counseling just 5% of the time.

It might be that the doctors don't have the time to offer diet advice, or don't consider themselves expert enough to provide good counseling, researchers said.

“When patients receive this education, we have seen tremendous results -- some have cut cholesterol levels in half within weeks,” said lead researcher Dr. Eric Brandt, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Michigan's Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

“However, physicians are often limited by time required to manage other aspects of a patient's condition,” Brandt said in a university news release. “Additionally, most cardiologists do not receive sufficient education to provide the dietary advice themselves.”

Women, seniors older than 65 and patients with chronic kidney disease were less likely to receive dietary counseling, researchers found.

Patients with private insurance were most likely to receive such counseling, followed by Medicare and Medicaid patients, results showed.

Currently, medical nutrition therapy is only covered for Medicare patients who have diabetes and end-stage kidney disease, the researchers noted.

“In my long history as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I have felt so grateful seeing how many patients benefit from medical nutrition therapy, yet my patients and I are equally saddened to see that the majority of people must pay out of pocket or be turned away because of lack of access to [dietary counseling] by Medicare,” said researcher Geeta Sikand, a registered dietitian nutritionist and an associate clinical professor of medicine in the cardiology division at University of California, Irvine.

Nearly half of American adults have poor diet quality, researchers noted. Choosing healthy, nutritious food can have a major impact on heart health.

“Lifestyle is the cornerstone for preventing cardiovascular disease,” Brandt said. “Without providing counseling on changing behaviors to choose the foods that our patients should eat, many are left without the tools to manage nutrition. I hope to see the landscape change, where eating healthier is more well supported and achievable.”

More information

The American Heart Association has more on heart-healthy eating.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, June 3, 2024

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