Diet Is the Single Most Important Predictor of Health, with David L. Katz, MD

In conjunction with John Week’s column, Can the New American Nutrition Association Finally De-Rodney Dangerfield Nutrition in US Medicine?  – where he talks about five nutrition-related organizations have banded together to form the American Nutrition Association (ANA)  – we suggest you read David L. Katz, MD article first on the important implications of diet for the reduction of chronic disease, and increased longevity and vitality. Then click over to Weeks’ article. The following is an excerpt of Dr. Katz interview followed by a link to the full text in Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Vol. 25, No. 6 and a link to John Weeks’ article on the new ANA.

David Katz, Designs for Health, CASI, Todays Practitioner

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, founding director of Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Derby, CT, believes that clinicians should strive to create a world free of preventable disease and that diet is the single most important predictor of health outcomes in the modern world. As an internationally recognized author, preventive medicine specialist, and health activist, Dr. Katz is keenly aware of the challenges that clinicians face when addressing nutritional and dietary issues with their patients. In this column, Dr. Katz emphasizes the critical implications of nutrition and health, common misconceptions about nutrition, and important steps that clinicians can take to inform and educate their patients.

Q: In your recent book The Truth About Food: Why Pandas Eat Bamboo and People Get Bamboozled you explain that nutrition is both simple and complicated. What do you want to share with clinicians about these contrasting points?

David L. Katz, MD: There is no question that all health care professionals must address nutrition with their patients, if only to let our patients know how much nutrition matters and that we know how much it matters. How much does it matter? Diet is the single most important predictor variable of health outcomes in the modern world. It is the single leading predictor of premature death and the single leading predictor of total chronic disease risk. In reverse, overall diet quality is the single leading predictor of longevity and vitality. We, as clinicians, have to embrace this critical knowledge.

However, it is then fair for us to acknowledge that diet is not purely a clinical issue; it is a cultural issue. One of the most important and bracing lessons for clinicians is to recognize that there is no example in the world where a large group of people have reliably eaten well over time in a culture that conspires against eating well. There is also no example where a large population has reliably eaten well simply because clinicians did an excellent job of coaching their patients. We never hear, “Our culture lives on doughnuts, but our clinicians give us great dietary counseling and that has fixed the problem.”

This is an important dichotomy for clinicians to embrace. First, if clinicians do not address diet, they are practicing at the margins of what matters the most regardless of what else they do in clinical practice. It is the single most important predictor variable in modern medicine. In contrast, if clinicians think that they alone can fix a person’s diet, then they are almost certainly biting off more than they can chew.

Q: What are a few of the biggest misconceptions among clinicians when they sit down to address nutrition with their patients?

Dr. Katz: There are many misconceptions, but I will focus on three key misconceptions. Read more here.

John Weeks

Click here for John Weeks’ column, Can the New American Nutrition Association Finally De-Rodney Dangerfield Nutrition in US Medicine? Learn about a new organization formed by integrative and nutrition thought leaders, Michael Stroka, JD, MBA, MS, CNS, LDN, Corinne Bush, MS, CNS, Jeffrey Bland, PhD, and Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, FACN, FASN, CNS-S.