How Health Coaches Fill the Gaps in Public Health
Vanessa Clermont, MS, RD, CDN, IIN Content Writer
In 2019 alone, the United States spent $3.8 trillion on healthcare. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to revamp our nation’s public health focus has been more obvious than ever before. Our current methods of providing care work only to treat illnesses after they arise, and this strategy has proven to be ineffective. Our healthcare system needs an overhaul, beginning with implementing approaches to healthcare that prevent lifestyle chronic diseases and improve public health overall. Today, seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States are chronic diseases, and at least six in 10 adults have at least one chronic illness. One of the critical risks for chronic disease in the United States is poor nutrition. Studies show that engaging in healthier behaviors significantly reduces the risk for illness and death due to chronic diseases like obesity. My Personal Experience Working as a Health Coach in a Public School Childhood obesity is a growing concern, both in the United States and around the globe, and the World Health Organization calls childhood obesity “one of the most serious public health challenges of the twenty-first century.” Between 2017 and 2018, obesity affected approximately 14.4 million children between the ages of 2 and 19 ‒ and this number continues to rise. Obesity is an epidemic that isn't going away anytime soon. Children spend most of their time in a school setting, away from home and their families. We know that many school systems do not necessarily have health and wellness in mind, from a lack of quality school lunches to minimal time outside for physical activity. If schools implemented health and wellness protocols for children from a young age, those kids could bring those new habits home with them. Children learn through repetition, and with lessons on living a healthy lifestyle as well as healthy food options at school, children can better understand the benefits of healthy living and eating. Having Health Coaches in schools can further support children in making smarter food choices and prevent and combat chronic diseases. I remember encountering a fellow Health Coach during my tenure as a volunteer at a public high school. She was the dean of student affairs and incorporated monthly nutrition education classes alongside traditional physical education. The students were really interested and wanted to hear more about nutrition! The school was located in a food desert, making it difficult for students to access healthy options. Together, we applied for grants that would provide healthier snacks to students throughout the school day, free of charge. When we received the funding, the students were extremely grateful for our commitment to their well-being. How Health Coaches Can Positively Impact Their Communities Health Coaches support individuals in improving their health and empower them to build the knowledge and skills needed to make better decisions. In addition to offering private coaching or working within a group of holistic practitioners, Health Coaches are increasingly utilized in public health spaces. A growing number of doctor’s offices, wellness centers, alternative health practices, and even hospitals are recognizing the crucial benefits of health coaching and holistic health. In the United States, especially, it’s pertinent now ‒ more than ever ‒ to have a model of care that prevents chronic diseases and does not focus only on treatment. Health Coaches can be fierce advocates for their communities by seeing firsthand where their services are most needed, such as in schools, and how they can help fill the gaps left by traditional medicine and healthcare. Here are a few more ways Health Coaches can play a valuable role in their communities:
Empower individuals to engage in self-efficacy (the understanding and confidence to carry out healthy behaviors) at home, work, and school
Assist with goal setting and provide support along the way by providing check-ins, words of encouragement, and solutions for problems clients might encounter
Provide holistic ways to prevent chronic diseases instead of just treating them, such as specialized diets, specific workouts, and different tactics to deal with stress
Support healthy eating habits when trained in nutrition
Imagine the impact on public health if everyone had access to a Health Coach whenever they needed one! From understanding how to find nutritious foods in any grocery store and how food impacts both physical and mental well-being to how exercise, the environment, and our relationships affect health, Health Coaches can create a tremendous ripple effect in their communities. Research has demonstrated the value of health coaching in the treatment of chronic illnesses like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, providing individuals with expertise in how to enhance their quality of life and create long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes. Health Coaches play an important role in alleviating the stress that chronic disease puts on our healthcare system, whether working one-on-one with a client or coaching in a primary-care office.