The community dietitian
Pippa Burge is the lead public health dietitian for NHS South West London's Richmond borough team. She aims to help prevent heart disease right from the start by working with expectant mothers, children and families.
When should people think about changing their diet to help look after their heart and what should they do?
Start now! It’s never too early – a lot of the work I do is with very young children to give them a healthy start. Parents and grandparents should try to look after their children’s and grandchildren’s hearts as well as their own.
Preventing obesity is a major part of my work. I also want to improve diets in general by promoting 5-a-day, the government campaign to encourage people to eat more fruit and veg, and persuade them to reduce their fat, sugar and salt intake, and eat more wholegrain foods like brown rice, wholemeal bread and oats.
What we eat now will affect our health in the future, so by starting early there will be less chance of developing other risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and becoming overweight.
How do you try to get these messages across?
I keep a bowl of fruit in the kitchen so there are always healthy snacks to hand
We help to give people the practical skills they need to implement healthy eating recommendations by teaching them to cook healthily from scratch. It also means they get to taste the food, so they know they like it, and then will be more likely to cook it for their families.
Do you think people respond differently outside a hospital setting?
It can be easier to build a rapport with people when the environment is informal, which is why we use community settings such as children’s centres to run Cook 4 Life sessions with mothers. Groups tend to meet over a series of weeks, so there are several opportunities for contact with the dietitian, along with the added benefit that people within the group can support each other.
What tips do you use to help you eat healthily?
As a mother, I make sure I’ve got a well-stocked store cupboard so I can cook healthy meals for the family, even when I’m busy. I keep a bowl of fruit in the kitchen so there are always healthy snacks to hand, and I seem to be constantly filling it up, so I must be doing something right! I also try to fit healthy habits into my lifestyle, such as walking to work.
Read what the hospital dietitian had to say
Read what the cardiac rehab dietitian had to say
Read our tips for a heart-healthy diet