Background: Despite the large potential of dietary changes to reduce morbidity and mortality, the frequency, time spent, and factors associated with nutrition counseling in primary care are not well studied.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study of 84 family physician practices in northeast Ohio, nutrition counseling was measured by direct observation on 2 days for all consecutive ambulatory visits. The frequency, time spent, and patient and visit characteristics associated with nutrition counseling were determined.
Results: Among 138 family physicians, only 6% included nutrition counseling in the majority (>50%) of patient encounters. Among 3475 consecutive outpatient visits in adults, nutrition counseling occurred in 24% of all patient visits, 17% of visits for acute illnesses, 30% of chronic illness visits, and 41% of well-care visits. The average time spent on nutrition counseling was 55 seconds, ranging from <20 seconds to >6 minutes. Nutrition counseling occurred in 45% of visits for diabetes, 25% of visits for cardiovascular disease, 31% of visits for hypertension, 26% of prenatal visits, and 33% of visits by obese patients (body mass index >30). Nutrition counseling was more likely to occur during visits by patients who were older or had diabetes mellitus, during visits for well care or chronic illness, and during longer visits.
Conclusion: Despite considerable variability from physician to physician, nutrition counseling occurs in approximately one fourth of all office visits to family physicians. The observed efforts by family physicians to focus nutrition counseling on high-risk patients may increase its impact.