Communicating the benefits of healthy lifestyles sensitively

Posted by Shaleen Meelu on Friday, 07 December 2012 in General

On Wednesday I delivered MECC training to staff at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital and I have to say it was a great experience not least because I live only 5 minutes away from the hospital but also because staff are totally committed to training their colleagues and providing support for patients. Matron Sarah Needham and David Richardson (Head of Learning and Development) supported training delivery and provided fantastic leadership and encouragement. Sarah, won an award for her work developing an 'alcohol liaison' service in the West Midlands which was subsequently replicated across the region. She was able to describe how to raise the issue of alcohol consumption in a sensitive manner and to explain the risks as well as well as how to sign-post and refer to appropriate services if requested. Likewise, through the MECC training we discuss how to do this in relation to healthy eating, weight management, physical activity, mental wellbeing and even sexual health. 

Not so sensitive approaches

A friend said to me 'Shaleen my doctor told me I'm obese'...he was flabbergasted and continued 'I'm not obese, why would he say that?' So I explained how BMI is calculated, what the ranges relate to and why it is important to maintain a weight within the healthy range. We also discussed stigma around the word 'obese' and I have to say, I felt so sad that he was given this information without any advice or support on how to address it. Naturally we went on to discuss this.  

Yesterday a training participant described how she heard a medical consultant at a conference say that all NHS staff who are overweight and smoke should be sacked. To be honest, I initially expressed disbelief because apparently this consultant was at the launch of a strategy which is all about promoting healthy lifestyles and also about supporting employees to make healthier choices. 

Clearly, the majority of the population take part in one or more 'unhealthy behaviour/s' (The Kings Fund recently raised awareness of 'clustering of unhealthy behaviours') and support for employees is as important as support for 'the public' (interchangeable groups surely). Research has shown that people want help to make positive lifestyle choices. 


I have to say I respect health professionals. I'm amazed by their commitment, dedication and hard-work. Doctors, nurses, health support workers - ALL. But I think that some individuals definitely need to think about their communication style and to stop passing judgement on others. We're all living in a world where making healthy choices is NOT easy. And the idea is to support and encourage individuals...not to pass judgement, belittle or make feel crap. Why would anyone do that? 

Yet, it is clear that some health professionals are passing judgement based on perception of social background and lack of  knowledge in relation to health behaviours. I remember advising a GP friend not to skip breakfast he retorted 'that advice is for the common people.' Initially puzzling yet, this morning, an article in the Times highlighted that yes, it is is true, some health professionals are just not very good at communicating sensitively and also unaware of how to simplify complex information.  

Funnily enough (and this is what has prompted me to blog this morning) NHS satire 'Polyoaks' on BBC Radio 4  highlights exactly how NOT to have a conversation with patients/clients. Perhaps I'll use this at future training days. At the beginning of episode 5, the GP rudely tells a young  man he is fat and needs to get on and do something about it. 

As for the GP friend he was diagnosed with heart disease and cancer a year later and now we're constantly having discussions about food and health. I believe he is passing this info onto his patients in a sensitive manner! I also encouraged him to read The Spirit Level which clearly describes the multiple factors that influence lifestyle choice and actually changed his attitude!  



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Hi, my name is Shaleen Meelu and I am the founder of Healthy Futures. I’m also a registered nutritionist and I have helped over 3,000 people embark upon healthy living programmes.


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