Why Do Nurses Need to Study Nutrition?

According to noted dietitians today, the phrase "You are what you eat" proves literally true. "Nutrients from the foods you eat provide the foundation of the structure, function and integrity of every cell in your body, from your skin and hair to digestive and immune systems," says Cynthia Sass, nationally known registered dietitian. Nutrition continues to be an essential domain of nursing practice," asserts American Nurse Today, the official journal of the American Nurses Association (ANA).

In this light, students pursuing a BSN reap the benefits of a nutrition course — often offered as a general education requirement rather than as part of their core nursing courses. Such is the case in La Salle University's online RN to BSN, a program that educates nursing professionals to implement key facets of patient care, including nutrition in the treatment and prevention of disease.

How Does Poor Nutrition Affect a Patient's Health?

"Nutrition strongly impacts a patient's ability to respond to illness or injury," says the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). "However, up to 55 percent of hospitalized patients arrive malnourished or become malnourished during their hospitalization, impairing their chances of survival, increasing their risk of complications and delaying healing."

"These complications contribute to longer hospital stays and higher healthcare costs," the AACN acknowledges.

"All nurses who provide patient care are responsible for addressing patients' nutritional needs," the ANA explains. This can take many forms: from conducting nutrition screening and performing nutrition assessment and interventions to providing mealtime assistance, nutrition support or dietary therapies, and more.

What Specific Effects of Poor Nutrition May Nurses Often Address?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nurses may address these healthcare concerns in their professional practice:

  1. Obesity. "Unhealthy eating habits have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States: about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8 percent) are obese and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese," says the HHS.

    "Obesity is a serious, chronic disease that can have a negative effect on many systems in your body," confirms Stanford Healthcare, a teaching hospital for the Stanford University School of Medicine. "People who are overweight or obese have a much greater risk of developing serious conditions, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and bone and joint disease."

  2. Diseases such as heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure). These are increasingly seen in younger ages and often the result of unhealthy eating habits and increased weight gain.
  3. Type 2 diabetes. Early detectionand treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing the disease's complications.
  4. Sleep apnea and celiac disease. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "Certain dietary patterns may affect not only daytime alertness but also nighttime sleep." The U.S. National Library of Medicine provides information concerning the nutritional considerations for those with celiac disease.
  5. Osteoporosis. Good nutrition helps people maintain health by preventing loss of muscle strength, bone mass and vitamin deficiency, states the HHN.
  6. Certain types of cancer. "The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could be prevented," the American Cancer Society

How Will a Nutrition Course Help You Improve Patient Care?

"Students will learn the basics of nutrition and how to discern if nutrition information is reliable," says Melissa Altman-Traub, who teaches Nutrition 165 as part of La Salle's RN to BSN online degree program. "This will help them as they continue their studies in the treatment and prevention of disease. In clinical settings, they will learn more to help them screen patients for nutrition risk and work with registered dietitian nutritionists in supporting nutrition plans and encouraging appropriate food choices."

Altman-Traub continues, "I think anyone working in healthcare needs to understand the extent that Americans' diet and lifestyle habits have affected the risk for chronic diseases, which are the major cause of death today."

In effect, nursing students who take a nutrition class such as the one Altman-Traub teaches may enhance their nursing education as well as advance important clinical skills and patient care.

Learn more about La Salle University's online RN to BSN program.


American Nurse Today: Nurse's Role in Nutrition Care

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: Critical Factors in Meeting the Nutrition Needs of Patients

MedicineNet: Disease Prevention Through Diet & Nutrition

Stanford Health Care: Effects of Obesity

Advances in Nutrition: Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality

American Nurse Today: Six Steps to Optimal Nutrition Care

American Diabetes Association: Diabetes Symptoms

American Cancer Society: Diet and Physical Activity: What's the Cancer Connection?

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