Purpose: Investigate the general nutrition knowledge of nurses and nursing students.
Background: Obesity is a chronic disease that is increasing in the United States. This disease affects more than 42% of adults in the United States and an additional 32% are overweight. Obesity is linked with cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, sleep apnea, cancer, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Obesity is the primary cause of disability and early death with nutrition and diet as the underlying cause. Obesity results in $147 billion in medical expenditures; loss of economic productivity pushes this cost higher. Nurses are in a unique position on the front line in fighting obesity as they provide the majority of nutrition education to patients. An exhaustive literature review over the past 20 years found little research on nurse’s general nutrition knowledge the United States. Nurses must be competent in nutrition knowledge in order to best educate their patients.
Methods: This study used a quantitative, descriptive, cross-sectional design with convenience sampling online. Nurses and nursing students in the United States were recruited via a school of nursing, social media, and a nursing organization to participate, utilizing a sociodemographic, multiple-choice nutrition questionnaire. The validated and reliable questionnaire had four parts: knowledge of expert advice, nutrition, health benefits of foods, and demographics.
Key findings: There was no statistically significant difference found in nutrition knowledge scores based on demographic data and nursing status. The mean overall score was 71% with the lowest score being seen in the knowledge of health benefits of food section with 59%. The mean score in the knowledge of expert advice section was 77.5%, and the mean score in the knowledge of nutrients section was 71%. While 89% knew that grains that still have the bran and germ are whole grain, only 66% know that flour tortillas are not a whole grain. A mere 43% of the respondents realized that brown sugar is not a healthier choice than white sugar. More than 30% of the sample surveyed believe that all foods that have fat or oil contain cholesterol. Only 40% of the respondents agreed that all calories cause the same weight gain, with 20% indicating calories from fat are most likely to cause weight gain, and 30% indicating that carbohydrates cause the most weight gain.
Conclusions: This study found a fundamental gap in the nutrition knowledge of nurses and nursing students as noted by low overall nutrition knowledge scores on the questionnaire. These findings are similar to studies done in foreign countries and to earlier studies done in the United States. Ways to rectify this lack of knowledge include looking toward interprofessional education and interdisciplinary teams. Future studies could use a validated reliable nutrition tool exclusively for nurses targeting comprehension and learning gaps.