Lifestyle intervention treatment should be on par with treating hypertension.

The American Heart Association (AHA) Science Advisory committee has issued a statement advising healthcare providers to “treat unhealthy behaviors as aggressively as they treat high blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart disease risk factors.”

The statement says that preventing cardiovascular diseases should be a priority especially if the AHA is to achieve its 2020 goal of “improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.”

Published in the AHA journal Circulation, the statement also calls for a “paradigm shift from only treating biomarkers — physical indicators of a person’s risk for heart disease — to helping people change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, unhealthy body weight, poor diet quality and lack of physical activity.” They can do this by creating “inter-professional practices” where they connect patients with behavior change specialists such as dietitians or psychologists.

“We already treat physical risk factors that can be measured through a blood sample or a blood pressure reading in a doctor’s office, yet people put their health at risk through their behaviors. We can’t measure the results of these behaviors in their bodies yet,” explains Bonnie Spring, Ph.D., lead author of the statement and professor of preventive medicine, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Chicago’s Northwestern University.

In order for “inter-professional practices” to work, insurance compensation policies need to be improved so that registered dieticians, psychologists and others can become part of the primary practice team. An effective healthcare system will enable professionals to work with patients and utilize community and technology resources to provide rigorous behavior interventions.

The AHA advices healthcare providers to implement the five A’s when caring for patients:

    • Assess a patient’s risk behaviors for heart disease
    • Advise change, such as weight loss or exercise
    • Agree on an action plan
    • Assist with treatment
    • Arrange for follow-up care

“This isn’t a problem that can be solved alone by the patient or the doctor who is strapped for time,” Spring said. “We need to break out of our silos and get ahead of the curve in prevention.”

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