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Follow Your Doctor’s Advice: Mental Health Status Not Impacted by Healthcare Professional Advice to Exercise, Eat Healthy

Dec. 7, 2018

By Becca Broaddus

Exercise and eat healthy. It’s the secret to better physical and mental health, according to research. But would you listen to your doctor if he or she told you to do it?

Rachel Shriver, Health Services Research PhD candidate in the Robbins Institute for Health Policy & Leadership at the Hankamer School of Business, recently presented her findings on this topic at the Academy Health 2018 Annual Research Meeting in Seattle, Washington. Although she was unable to attend, Clinical Professor and Director of the PhD Program in Health Services Research Neil Fleming presented the poster in her place.

“I have a passion for furthering research on chronic debilitating conditions and researching how to help people make the behavioral modifications that help them live healthier lives,” Shriver said. “Much attention has been brought to the issues of physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits in the past few years, but there still needs to be much more research in this area.”

Previous medical studies have shown that in some cases, healthcare professionals advising lifestyle changes (e.g. quitting smoking) have resulted in patients being more likely to make recommended changes. Shriver’s research, titled “Impact on Patient’s Mental Health Status When Health Care Professionals Counsel Patients to Exercise or Eat Healthy," seeks to evaluate the impact on patients’ mental health statuses when healthcare professionals counsel them to exercise or eat healthy.

Using longitudinal data from public survey records, Shriver examined 2,416 youth and 10,991 adults for the exercise treatment analysis and 2,421 youth for the eating healthy treatment analysis. Both analyses showed that healthcare professionals advising patients to exercise or eat healthy didn’t affect their self-reported mental health statuses.

“I hope this research draws additional attention to the potential for simple healthcare interventions to change patient’s behavior in beneficial ways,” she said. “Ultimately, there needs to be more research in this area to determine how exactly a healthcare professional should advise patients to get the best patient outcomes. The research showing the most promise has healthcare providers employing specific strategies, such as using modified motivational interview techniques rather than simply advising patients to exercise or eat healthy.”

According to Shriver, lifestyle behavior modification can produce better outcomes at a lower cost than healthcare services. Despite the results of her analysis, Shriver plans to continue researching this topic.

“I feel that…these areas are complex but provide a great opportunity to make a big difference in someone’s quality of life through research,” she said.

Shriver, a Baylor Business Fellow who majored in Economics and Mathematics in undergraduate, decided to stay at Baylor to join the new PhD program in the Robbins Institute.

“During my senior year, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school to study applied econometrics and had been meeting with Dr. Steve Green to talk though next steps,” Shriver said. “At that time, this Health Services Research program was being set up to have its first cohort start in fall 2016. [Dr. Green] told me about this opportunity and it seemed like the perfect fit. This program allows me to enhance my econometrics knowledge while applying it to healthcare. I feel as though this program allows me to really help others by using my skills at researching.”

Shriver, who is a member of the program’s first cohort, expects to graduate in 2020 after completion of her dissertation in this arena. After that, she plans to work on a health services research team for a major hospital system.

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