Doctors can turn waiting rooms into classrooms to teach nutrition to patients with diabetes

 Title: wellness health healthy food diet exercise fitness CREDIT: Getty/udra
A physician's waiting room is a good place to hold educational classes for patients. (Getty/udra)

A new study suggests doctors can turn their waiting rooms into classrooms, in this case helping diabetic patients manage their condition.

Weekly classes that taught diet changes and nutrition education made a difference in patients with diabetes, including lower blood sugar levels, according to the study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In the study, researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a D.C.-based nonprofit health organization which promotes a vegan diet, conducted after-hours group nutrition classes for more than 40 patients with Type 2 diabetes. The classes were held in the waiting room of a private endocrinology practice in Washington, D.C.

Patients, whose diabetes was generally well-controlled at the study outset, were assigned either a low-fat vegan or portion-controlled diet for 20 weeks. They all improved their weight, glycemic control and cholesterol levels. The results of the randomized controlled study were the same regardless of which diet plan patients followed.

The study concluded that weekly classes, integrated into a clinical practice using a low-fat vegan or portion-controlled eating plan, can lead to clinical improvements in patients with diabetes.

“Doctors can turn their waiting rooms into classrooms. It’s simple and very effective,” lead study author Neal D. Barnard, M.D., of the George Washington University School of Medicine, said in an announcement. “Patients learn about healthy food changes, and can share tips, swap recipe ideas and work through challenges together.”

During the study, participants met with a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop an individualized eating plan. They were then asked to follow their diet and attend free one-hour meetings weekly for instruction and support, as well as a weekly weigh-in. All of the classes were conducted by a nutritionist, nurse, physician, cooking instructor or research staff and included information on diabetes, nutrition, meal planning, shopping, food preparation techniques, recipes and discussion of everyday dietary challenges, such as dining out and healthful snacking.

“Nutrition is one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight against diabetes,” Barnard said. “This study shows that even clinicians who are pressed for time can harness that power by offering group instruction to their patients.” More than 100 million Americans now live with prediabetes or diabetes. 

Doctors have, in fact, been thinking outside the box to engage patients. For instance, in Virginia, pediatrician Nimali Fernando, M.D., also known as "Dr. Yum," offers cooking classes at Dr. Yum Pediatrics. She has a kitchen in her practice where she shows patients and parents how to prepare meals with nutritious food to establish good eating habits.

But doctors could use more education on the subject. While there is a global obesity epidemic, studies have found most doctors have little training in obesity and nutrition. Some medical schools and health systems are doing more to teach medical students and doctors about nutrition, including giving them cooking lessons.