Novel Treatment Methods of Lifestyle Diseases in Low Socio-Economic Communities

By Amanda Oakes-Cornellissen

The Optimal Health and Wellness Clinic of Morehouse Healthcare in Atlanta, USA, has a different
treatment regime for conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes! This clinic serves a
predominantly African American community and its mission is to promote health equity among those
in lower socio-economic environments. The unique style of treatment is that the focus is not on
prescribing pharmaceuticals, but on spending quality time with the patients, involving them in the
decision-making process, and educating them on how to change their lifestyles by equipping them
with certain skills for the promotion of improved health, while considering their financial constraints.

Initial Consultations (Individual Sessions)

  • Duration: 1 hour.
  • A thorough medical, social history, and physical examination.
  • Standard laboratory tests are performed.
  • An introduction to the lifestyle medicine approach.
  • The health benefits of a plant-based diet.
  • Patients a screened according to the Readiness to Change Tool.

Follow-up Consultations (Individual sessions)

  • Duration: 30 minutes.
  • Physical examination.
  • Lifestyle counselling.

Follow-up Consultations – Shared Medical Appointments (SMA – Group Sessions)

  • Patients have the option of choosing an individual follow-up session or to be part of an SMA.
  • SMA – a support group where patients with similar diagnoses listen, interact, and learn about topics related to their specific conditions.
  • Duration: +- 2 hours (depending on how many participants there are in a group).
  • Each patient is given 15 – 30 minutes of individual consultation time.
  • A SMA is coordinated by a physician, psychologist, patient co-ordinator and a medical student.
  • Different lifestyle-related topics are covered including plant-based nutrition.

Plant-Based Cooking Classes

  • Duration: 2 hours weekly over 12 weeks.
  • Instead of merely receiving a doctor’s prescription, patients are offered the opportunity to prepare their own whole-food prescriptions in the form of a healthy, oil-free, balanced plant-based meal!
  • These cooking classes teach patients about the scientific underpinnings and benefits of plant-based food and the potential it has to reverse chronic disease.
  • Thirty minutes is allocated to sharing information on a lifestyle-related health topic (sleep management, stress, and physical activity) and thereafter the cooking demonstration is done with time for tasting the prepared food.
  • Class members are encouraged to build a plant-based community that learns new cooking skills, enjoys new flavours, and promotes healthier eating patterns together.

The South African Healthcare System could successfully implement many of the above interventions,
without requiring a large budget. Morehouse Healthcare has shown that investing quality time to
share lifestyle medicine principles in lower socio-economic communities has the potential to lessen
the chronic disease burden, without following the standard pharmaceutical route which oftentimes has
adverse long-term side effects. The above model encourages family and community involvement
which assists in positive re-enforcement of these evidence-based lifestyle medicine principles for the
prevention, reversal, and management of chronic diseases.

Rooke J. Advancing Health Equity With Lifestyle Medicine. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;12(6):472-475.
Published 2018 Jun 14. doi:10.1177/1559827618780680