By Patricia M. Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN
Dean & Professor
Johns Hopkins School of Nursing
Epidemiological transitions have seen a global shift from the burden of communicable to non-communicable disease. Internationally, there is a significant burden of premature death and disability attributed to chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Attending the 3rd International Conference on Prevention and Management of Chronic Conditions in Bangkok Thailand has provided significant insight into the antecedent and moderating factors of chronic disease. Many of the factors contributing to this global burden are aspects of our lifestyle- where we live what we eat and how we spend our lives. Physical inactivity, smoking and a diet high in fat and salt contribute to poor health outcomes.
This scientific meeting was designed to expand and exchange knowledge & practice on prevention and management of chronic conditions. Listening to a range of talks of experts from the World Health Organization and other associations one cannot be impressed by the fact that the health and well-being of the world is highly contingent on our environment. The type of food that we eat is a critical part of our health and well-being. Over recent decades we have not only seen an increase in portion size and a shift from fresh produce to processed foods.
Many baby boomers have grown up thinking that many of our challenges were famine and hunger but positive forces of globalization have alleviated much of this burden and improved the lives of many.
Yet in the 21st century, throughout the world overweight and obesity are major causes for concern, even in emerging economies. Paradoxically, improved access to food does not mean improved nutrition and health.
Factors that we need to consider are nutritional standards and indicators, food based guidelines, reduction in sugars, fats and salt as well as nutrition and food related disease surveillance. You may ask how we can as nurses addressed these complex issues. One of the best ways we can do this is influence and advocate for policy that supports and enables good health. An example of this is regulation of the tobacco and fast food industries. But perhaps more importantly it is at the individual level that we can have the greatest impact. Supporting individuals and their families to make good health choices and understand the complex milieu of food labelling is an important step.