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Inspiring a Wave of Healthful Eating
By Juliann Schaeffer

Dietitians who care for patients with chronic kidney disease are celebrating National Nutrition Month by providing various nutrition education programs to the masses.

The 1,500 dietitians who make up the nutrition services department at Davita, Inc, a provider of kidney care in the United States that delivers dialysis services to patients with chronic kidney failure and end-stage renal disease, work daily to assess, educate, and improve the nutritional health of patients with chronic kidney illnesses. But for March, which is both National Nutrition Month and National Kidney Month, they’ve set their sights even higher: Through a nationwide health initiative, DaVita dietitians are seeking out almost 40,000 of their coworkers, as well as many laypeople in surrounding communities, to provide healthful eating education.

More than 26 million Americans currently live with the effects of kidney disease. At 1,809 dialysis facilities across the United States, DaVita RDs provide patients with intensive nutrition counseling in an effort to empower patients to better their nutrition status. But this month, these RDs are coming together to take their message to the masses.

This new health initiative, called “A Wave of Healthy Choices,” seeks to further use the skills of DaVita RDs and expand the reach of their specialized knowledge. With proper education (and a little creative inspiration), DaVita is hoping to inspire people nationwide to know better and then choose better when it comes to food, thus preventing future kidney disease diagnoses and all the associated unfortunate aspects.

As part of this program, DaVita RDs will provide daily nutrition tips and educational expertise to their colleagues throughout March.

“The Wave of Healthy Choices initiative begins with each dietitian providing education on healthful nutrition choices in a fun, interactive way to their teammates [coworkers] in each dialysis facility and neighboring business offices,” says Debbie Benner, RD, MS, CSR, vice president of clinical support at DaVita.

In addition, various activities are planned to get neighboring communities in on the action. “There are 38 DaVita divisions across the United States, and dietitians within each division will provide community education activities during March,” Benner explains. “These community events will teach healthful eating in a fun, contagious way. These programs will offer content designed specifically to meet the interests of young children, teenagers, adults, and seniors based in a variety of settings.”

While the program begins and continues throughout March, Benner says the hope is that it takes place yearly. “After March, feedback will be gathered regarding the scope and impact of this project to determine opportunities for improvement and potential next steps,” she says. “We anticipate this will be an annual initiative [spearheaded] by our nutrition services team and look forward to the continued improvements in the process and tools over time.”

DaVita has developed various activities as a part of this health initiative, aimed at various audiences, to meet and educate a wide range of Americans about what healthful eating means to them (and why they should care), hopefully inspiring better food decisions in communities across the country. The following is just a sampling of what DaVita has in store for its wave of educational events:

The Biggest Loser (of Poor Food Choices): Based on the popular TV weight-loss show, this program targets DaVita employees and involves various activities aimed at giving participants the tools necessary to make healthful food choices.

One of them is called “Don’t Super Size Me!” a step-by-step guide to label reading “using labels from foods frequently used,” says Karen Graham, RD, LDN, a divisional dietitian at DaVita. “[Program participants] will be shown how to assess what constitutes one serving size and compare that with the portion typically consumed.” This part also includes an activity challenging the serving-size know-how of participants to identify and dish out one serving of food into a bowl, plate, or cup.

Another activity, called “The Size Is Right,” is a visual review of commonly eaten foods, such as popcorn or bagels, Graham says. This activity “will identify portion distortion and its impact on additional calories,” she notes.

And “Produce More With More Produce” gets employees working together in groups and addresses how to set intake goals for fruits and vegetables. “There’s an option to have a weigh-in before and after the activity to demonstrate that healthful eating can lead to a healthful weight [loss],” Graham says. “Another activity option is to form a produce-buying club, where a group can jointly purchase fresh fruits and vegetables to add to their lunchtime meal.”

Designed to introduce new fruits and vegetables and educate employees on how to identify (and then incorporate) healthful eating habits into their lifestyle, this program also seeks to make healthful food choices easier for employees by making good-for-you food options available during work hours.

Fear Factor — Trying New Healthful Foods: Based on the theme of another popular TV show, this activity—in a game format—targets school-aged children in communities across the country and involves introducing children of various ages to fruits and vegetables with which they may not be familiar. “The game has two versions, each directed at a specific age group,” Graham says. “During the activity, the children will try new fruits and vegetables along with learning pertinent facts about them.”

DaVita hopes introducing children to foods that have high nutrient profiles will only help them to make wholesome food choices down the road to adulthood.

• Healthy Eating on a Budget: Targeting adults in nationwide communities, “This project includes an RD-led discussion about [the risks and benefits of] convenience foods vs. cooking from scratch, how to plan ahead for better budgeting and better food decisions, and incorporating meatless Mondays into your menu,” Graham says. For this activity, DaVita RDs also will show participants how to make healthful convenience snacks and compare the time and cost involved in buying prepackaged produce vs. making their own prewashed salad.

Get Your Plate in Shape: Aiming to reach college-age kids and adults, this program utilizes ChooseMyPlate.gov to educate participants “using food demonstrations of appropriate food portions for the various food groups, along with guidance on how to make healthful food selections from each group,” Graham says.

Food Demonstration: Reaching out to food pantry recipients, in this activity RDs will educate American families and adults who use these public services by teaching them (and actually demonstrating for them) specific ways to use the foods available and incorporate them into healthful recipes they can be proud to serve to their families.

Get in Shape Relay: “Incorporating nutrition and exercise, children participate in a relay to determine food groups and healthful food choices within the food group,” Graham says of this activity, which targets younger children in grades 6 through 9.

“From kindergarten classrooms to senior center community rooms, DaVita dietitians are poised to truly give back to the workplace and the community,” Benner adds. “Armed with nutrition knowledge and creative teaching events, they’re prepared and dedicated to making a real difference in the health of a nation.”

In addition to educating a wide variety of American families and individuals about the basics of good nutrition, Benner says that with this initiative, DaVita has a real opportunity to help deter kidney disease and other chronic illnesses.

And while the initiative as a whole will eventually be evaluated by concrete measures such as ease of program implementation, Benner says its real measure of success “will be felt in the hearts of our dietitians. If this initiative enabled them to share their passion for health effectively so that at least one person they interacted with makes more positive nutrition or health choices, it will be a success. A wave of healthy choices may be created by the small ripples of individuals making healthier choices one day at a time.”

— Juliann Schaeffer is an associate editor at Great Valley Publishing and a regular contributor to Today's Dietitian.