Dietitians are at the forefront in the fight against chronic conditions

Aiesha Mohamed, Community Dietitian based at Retreat CHC.

The importance of healthy habits to prevent and manage chronic conditions is highlighted in June by celebrating Global Wellness Day on 11 June and Dietitian Week from 20 to 24 June.

“Too many people are living with an illness and it affects their quality of life,” says Aiesha Mohamed, a Community Dietitian based at Retreat CHC. “What we eat has such a big impact on our emotional, physical and mental well-being, and so it is not only our duty but our privilege to walk alongside children, men and women at all stages of life and give them the tools to improve their health. This is such a great opportunity for everyone to know that we are here to improve lives and to empower people with the knowledge to help them manage their chronic conditions.”

Dietitians are an integral part of the Western Cape Government healthcare team and make vital contributions across many different specialisms and healthcare settings. The theme for Dietitian Week 2022 is “Know your worth, show your worth.”  Not only are our dieticians showing their worth by providing care and support for patients with long term and chronic conditions, they continue to play a significant role in prevention and support patients at every life stage ensuring all patients know their worth as well.

COVID-19 impacted the health and wellbeing of community members as many people neglected the management of their chronic disease lifestyle because they feared visiting health clinics during hard lockdown and subsequent waves of the pandemic. Dietitians are now on the frontlines of facing and addressing these health issues and through evidence-based research, dietitians and the dietetic workforce help people to understand their chronic conditions and guide them how they can make lifestyle changes that will help them to improve their health.

Aiesha forms part of a team of community dietitians who provide nutrition services and support to the healthcare facilities and the community. “Food plays a pivotal role in everyone’s lives and has a big impact on our health and wellbeing. It not only provides nourishment, but also plays a role in our mental health and is a big part of social interactions. We assist people and empower them to take ownership of their health by educating them on how to make choices about food in a way that will positively influence their health and wellbeing. We also educate parents and caregivers about the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy and childhood and then contribute towards the treatment and prevention of malnutrition.”

Dietitians do not work in isolation, but form part of a multi-disciplinary team, where patients are referred by doctors, nurses, allied health and community-based services. Patients are then assisted based on their individual needs and context. “Changing one’s lifestyle, especially the way we are eating, is influenced greatly by changing behaviour and helping someone to understand why their eating behaviour requires change,” explains Aiesha. “This is especially challenging as our patients ability to self-manage their disease and to change their habits to healthy habits are often impacted by factors such as food insecurity, food preferences, and established eating habits. My advice is to remember that balance is key and healthy eating is more than just weight loss and cutting out foods. It is about eating foods in moderate amounts and avoiding excess. A healthy lifestyle is for everyone regardless of your health status.”

Dietitians often support outreaches in addition to their role at the facility they are based at. For example, A’esha Arnold Isaacs, another Community Dietitian based at Lady Michaelis CDC, explains  that besides supporting 11 primary health care facilities, she also does outreaches to government funded old age homes, creches and special needs facilities to support nutrition interventions.

“It is always encouraging and inspiring to see how someone’s health improves when they are empowered with the right knowledge and support to make potentially life-saving changes,” says A’esha. “As dietitians our aim is to empower and support our patients to be their best healthier version of themselves, whether it is having one vegetable portion a day, compared to previously having none, or just going for a 15 minute daily walk.  Mothers with babies, that used to come to the clinic with anxiety because their babies are not growing or are malnourished, are now confident because they have a thriving healthy toddler after seeing the dietitian.  Patients living with chronic diseases of lifestyles that I have counselled are empowered to take control of their own lifestyle; they understand the chronic disease they have, for example how diabetes works, and they are better equipped to manage and control these diseases,” explains A’esha.
A’esha Arnold Isaacs shares her four most important tips:

  • If you have a strong family history of chronic conditions, please get checked regularly and seek the advice of a dietitian.
  • If you have been diagnosed with a chronic condition, consult with a dietitian at your nearest facility. As dietitians we are trained to look at your current lifestyle and to help you to adjust your habits, diet, and lifestyle to improve your health.
  • Parents, if you are worried that your baby or toddler isn’t growing as they should, speak up and ask the nurse if you can see the dietitian.
  • We ask that parents remember that their children model what you do. So if you are living an unhealthy lifestyle, you are teaching your kids to do the same as this is all they know.