Postgraduate research brings time and money saving discovery to GPs in the UK

Published: 26 February 2009 at 16:50

Doctor is shortlisted for implementing ‘obesity’ risk study

A Research Fellow from Anglia Ruskin University’s Faculty of Health and Social Care (FHSC) has been shortlisted for the Akinsanya Award 2009 for Doctoral Scholarship in Nursing prize for her 4 year PhD research which explored the stability of methods of measuring body composition to identify dangerous obesity within General Practice.

Valerie Shephard, PhD, BSc (Hons), who has dedicated her career to nursing and nurse teaching, has backed the theory (now promoted in the USA) that busy practitioners can replace tape measures with a simple ruler or ‘abdominal callipers’ to check which patients who are obese would benefit from further  tests. The assessment is made by measuring the distance from the examination table to the top of the patient’s tummy or abdomen when they are lying down.

Many diseases - including cancer, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease - can be predicted by looking at the level of fat stored in the abdomen, the method of estimating the risk to patients is crucial to good patient care. By using a standard measurement of abdominal height or ‘sagittal abdominal diameter (SAD)’, doctors can make a quick calculation to predict those patients who are at increased risk from their weight and those who are not. 

The decision to conduct further testing is made at this stage which is where extensive time and cost savings could be implemented.

The research presented in Valerie’s thesis was undertaken in one Primary Care surgery to provide evidence to underpin new health care practice.  More than 28 people volunteered to participate in the long term study which made the evidence gathering possible. This method has been identified by other clinical researchers, but has not previously been assessed for repeated use in the GP’s surgery.

Speaking about the study, Dr Shephard said:

"The presence of fat in the tummy is what needs to be measured to determine the risk to patients from a number of life threatening diseases. The SAD measure of abdominal height was demonstrated to be a more reliable measure to measure clinical risk in the primary care environment."

"It helps to select more effectively which patients to monitor. If a patient is in a risk situation, this measure can be used over the period of consultation and treatment to determine ongoing progress. Patients losing weight can also be given additional information about their progress. My study, which was funded by Anglia Ruskin University, was unique in that it extended over four years and so is based on solid, longitudinal evidence."

"GPs across the UK can benefit from switching to this simple but effective check."

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Research Society has just announced the shortlist for the Akinsanya Award 2009 for Innovation in Doctoral Scholarship in Nursing. The list includes four theses that examine issues within healthcare one of which is ‘methods of measuring body composition in primary care’.

The award is granted to the most innovative thesis in nursing disciplines and aims to celebrate and promote excellence in nursing scholarship, innovation and its potential to influence health care policy and practice.

Commenting on the shortlist, Professor Annie Topping, Professor of Health and Social Care, University of Huddersfield and chair of this year’s judging panel said:

"The standard of submissions was yet again excellent making it a hard job for the shortlisting panel. Nurse researchers seem to be acutely attuned to the enormity of the health agenda and the contribution nursing knowledge can have on improving outcomes for patients and their families."

The winning research student – selected from the four shortlisted entrants representing different higher education institutions - will be announced at the RCN’s International Nursing Research Conference in Cardiff 24-27 March.

The award is named after RCN Fellow Professor Justus A Akinsanya who was the founder of Anglia Ruskin University’s Faculty of Health and Social Care. The award will be given for the third time in 2009.

Dr Shephard commented,

"Justus was inspirational to work with, as his research highlighted the value of a scientific basis for nursing. My memories of him were part of my motivation to enter for this award".