Obesity is one of the most concerning widespread health issues in America, putting people at a higher risk for a variety of cardiovascular diseases. In the U.S., nearly one-third of adults and approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Obesity directly puts excessive burden on the heart because it must work harder to pump blood to all of the tissue in the body. Indirectly, it contributes to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and the development of diabetes," said Jerilyn Allen, RN, ScD, FAAN, Associate Dean for Research and M. Adelaide Nutting Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, Md. and immediate past president of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA).
Nurses have a unique opportunity to support and encourage weight loss and cardiovascular health. According to a recent membership survey from the PCNA, nurses spend roughly 45 minutes on an initial patient visit and 20 minutes with a patient during follow-up visits. Due to this high level of patient involvement, nurses are quickly becoming a critical resource in the way they influence their patients' weight loss routines.
Because of the connection between obesity and heart health, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recently funded the Practice-Based Opportunities for Weight Reduction (POWER) trial, to measure the effectiveness of weight loss using two different methods – in-person coaching or coaching via the telephone and other means of technology. Each study participant was assigned a health coach to interact with either in-person or over the phone. Additionally, both groups used an interactive website that allowed for email feedback from the coaches.
The study concluded that telephone coaching for weight loss is just as effective as in-person coaching. Forty percent of patients in both groups kept the weight off after two years.
"Nurses are at a great advantage to utilize technology with their patients because they work in so many different settings and are easily accessible to the public," said Allen. Based on the results of the NHLBI study, nurses may be able to effectively utilize various methods of communication with their patients, including the telephone, online programs or social media, to support and encourage weight loss and cardiovascular health.
"For nurses to begin taking advantage of the opportunity that technology presents, they must educate themselves on what technology their patients are using, such as Facebook, Twitter, emailing, text messaging or phone calls. Once they know what works best for their patients, they can begin to communicate with them through that particular channel of technology," said Allen.
According to the American Heart Association in a statement given by Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine, epidemiology and international health at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Md., "Programs delivered by telephone with website back-up could be the wave of the future in addressing a variety of heart disease risk factors or managing chronic conditions."
The PCNA offers free online resources, including clinical tools, forms and slide sets, to help nurses manage patient obesity and help prevent cardiovascular diseases. For more information and to order the free materials, visit www.pcna.net.