The role of physiotherapists in providing nutrition care to improve dietary behaviours
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2022-06-02. This item is currently available to University of Melbourne staff and students only, login required.
© 2020 Kaleswari Somasundaram
Background: Non-communicable chronic diseases are the foremost cause of death, illness, and disability in Australia. Poor dietary behaviours contribute significantly to the burden of chronic disease and health care costs. Promoting healthy eating is a crucial step to prevent and manage lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Although extensive evidence-based dietary guidelines are available in Australia, poor dietary habits are common. Nutrition care is nutrition or dietary related advice given by health professionals to improve dietary behaviour of patients. Previous studies among healthcare professionals highlighted a 'lack of time' as a barrier to deliver nutrition care in primary care. Physiotherapists are well positioned for such health promotion in comparison to other primary care practitioners as they often have prolonged and repeated consultations with patients. However, to date, there have been no studies in Australia to explore whether physiotherapists could provide nutrition care to their patients. Aim: This study aims to investigate practices, knowledge, and barriers to providing nutrition care of Australian physiotherapists. Method: Mixed methods were used. A qualitative study was conducted with physiotherapists practicing in Victoria, exploring their practices, knowledge, barriers, and personal behaviours in relation to nutrition. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analysed. For further exploration, results were used to inform the development of a national survey of physiotherapists working in the primary care setting. Survey results were analysed using STATA software and reported using descriptive statistics. Results: 20 physiotherapists were interviewed, and 344 practicing physiotherapists participated in the online survey. Three main themes supported by nine sub-themes emerged from the interview data. Participants were strongly motivated to provide nutrition care given the relevance of nutrition to their patients' conditions. However, they suggested the complexity of nutrition care and a lack of training and knowledge often stopped them from promoting healthy eating in their clinical settings. All interview participants engaged in some level of nutrition care in their physiotherapy settings. The results of the national quantitative study suggest physiotherapists in Australia are engaging in nutrition care commonly by providing a referral to a dietitian (71% of survey participants) and verbal advice (65% of survey participants) to encourage patients to eat healthily. Thirty-eight percent of participants reported encouraging healthy eating with patients regularly. The preferred content for 'basic healthy eating advice' includes drinking water (89%), minimizing intakes of processed (89%) and sugary food (89%) and alcohol (75%), and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables (68-73%). Eighty percent of survey participants were confident with their knowledge of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE), but only 58% were confident to use AGHE to assist them in evaluating patients' dietary intake. Based on a validated questionnaire, participants' self-perceived competence scores (mean score 63%; very confident) in providing nutrition care, showed they were confident with their nutrition knowledge, skills, communication and counselling practices with favourable attitudes towards providing nutrition care for their patients. Barriers identified by the participants to providing nutrition care included lack of clarity in the scope of practice (60%), lack of nutrition-training (52%), lack of time (48%), patient perception (43%) and lack of resources or materials (41%). They have also identified professional development training in nutrition (78%), encouragement or policy statement from the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) (76%), and printed or online materials as resources (70%) as facilitators to providing nutrition care to patients. The majority of participants (83-86%) recognized the impact of diet on NCDs and health, besides being aware of evidence-based information. Ninety-three percent of survey participants agreed that physiotherapists serve as role models for their patients, and 85% agreed that they should assist in improving patients' dietary behaviour. More than half (57%) of the participants were eating according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG). Conclusion: The findings of this study indicated that almost all participating physiotherapists were currently providing nutrition care, with the majority referring patients to a dietitian and encouraging patients to eat healthily. Nearly forty percent of participants reported encouraging healthy eating with patients regularly. Participants preferred offering basic healthy eating advice focussing on drinking water, minimizing the intake of less healthy food, and less commonly on increasing the consumption of healthy foods. The majority of participants were confident with their knowledge of AGHE, but fewer of them were confident to use the guidelines to assess patients' food consumption. The study also indicated that more than half of the participants were eating healthily in alignment with national dietary guidelines. The study showed that the participants were confident with their nutrition-related knowledge, skills, communication, and expressed favourable attitudes towards providing nutrition care in physiotherapy settings. However, they have highlighted that training and approval of a broader scope of practice as facilitators to further development of this role. Their practice and motivation in providing nutrition care suggest that they are parallel with the international health promotion advocacy towards eradicating NCDs.
KeywordsNutrition care; Physiotherapists; Health promotion; Healthy eating
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