The Importance of Health Coaches in Combating Chronic Disease

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Whether you’re considering becoming a health coach or are a practitioner feeling overwhelmed with helping patients make lifestyle changes, this article is for you. Read on to learn why health coaches are essential to combating the epidemic of chronic disease that we face today.

With chronic disease on the rise, we simply can’t afford to continue doing the same thing over and over again. In my book, Unconventional Medicine, I outline a new model of healthcare—one that relies heavily on allied providers like health coaches working alongside clinicians.

Health and wellness coaches are an incredible asset to any clinical practice and are an underutilized sector of the healthcare system. Health coaches support patients in making lasting diet, lifestyle, and behavior changes, free up physician time, and improve patient outcomes. From the health coach’s perspective, working collaboratively with doctors offers them a clear treatment plan and a meaningful and rewarding way to make a living. This article will discuss all of these topics and highlight the essential role that health coaches play in battling the chronic disease epidemic.

The Ever-Rising Tide of Chronic Disease

When the conventional model of medicine was born, the primary causes of disease were acute infectious diseases: tuberculosis, typhoid, and pneumonia. The “one doctor, one cause, one treatment” paradigm was effective at restoring health.

Today, seven of 10 deaths in the United States are caused by chronic disease. (1) Consider the following statistics:

  • Six in 10 Americans have a chronic disease; four in 10 have multiple chronic diseases (2)
  • One in four students in the United States now have chronic disease (3)
  • By 2030, chronic disease will account for $47 trillion in healthcare expenditures (4)

Moreover, chronic diseases are often multifactorial—the result of a complex interaction between genetic predisposition and several environmental factors. As of 2016, an estimated 85 percent of chronic disease can be explained by factors other than genetics. (5)

Bad Behaviors and the Need for Change

It’s evident that chronic disease is the single biggest threat to our health today. Moreover, it’s behavior change that is really needed to prevent and reverse chronic disease.

According to the CDC, the top five behaviors for preventing chronic disease include not smoking, getting regular physical activity, consuming moderate amounts of alcohol or none at all, maintaining a normal body weight, and obtaining daily sufficient sleep. Yet as of 2013, only 6.3 percent of Americans engage in all five of these health-promoting behaviors. (6)

Why do only 6.3% of Americans engage in all top five healthy behaviors?

The reality is that behavior change is hard, and most people don’t know how to do it successfully. Everyone wants to get the most out of life. Everyone knows that eating junk food, remaining sedentary, and staying up all night aren’t good for them. Yet most people continue these behaviors anyway. They might try a drastic diet or exercise regimen, but these often aren’t sustainable in the long term. People need help making lifestyle habits that stick.

Physicians Lack the Time and Training to Implement Behavior Change

What about physicians? Can’t they help with behavior change? Unlikely. The average visit with a primary care physician lasts a meager 10 to 12 minutes—barely enough time to review the patient’s current medications, ask them about any new symptoms, and prescribe a new drug. (7) It’s not even close to the amount of time necessary to assess their diet, behavior, and lifestyle; identify areas for improvement; and provide the support necessary for sustaining these changes. Even a Functional Medicine practitioner, who might spend 30 to 60 minutes with a patient, will be hard-pressed to instill lasting behavior change.

Moreover, most doctors, nurses, and physician assistants aren’t trained in behavior change. Instead, they are trained in the “expert” model of care, where they simply tell patients what to do and expect them to do it. This works when the patient is facing an acute health issue, but it fails miserably for long-term behavioral changes like managing stress, starting an exercise routine, or losing weight. For most people, information itself does not change behavior. Behavior change happens at home, not in the clinic.

Lastly, we simply don’t have enough physicians to make it happen. It’s estimated that we will have a shortage of 52,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) by the year 2025. (8) We’ll need PCPs to be focused on interpreting lab results, making diagnoses, and recommending treatment plans, not on primary prevention habits.

The Role of Health Coaches

This is where health coaches come in. A recent review defined health coaching as “a client- or patient-centered process that assumes a working relationship/partnership develops between patient and [coach] to advance healthy lifestyle behavior change using tools such as nonjudgmental dialogue, goal setting, and accountability.” (9)

In other words, health coaches can spend more time with the patient, walking them through ways to make behavioral changes last, and are often specifically trained in techniques like:

  • Habit formation and reversal: Since only 6 percent of people engage in the top five health behaviors, reversing bad habits like smoking and forming new habits like eating well and getting enough sleep are the key to reversing chronic disease.
  • Motivational interviewing, which encourages patients to link new behavior changes to their deepest needs and goals (for example: “I will change my diet and lifestyle because I want to live to see my grandchildren get married”).
  • Positive psychology, which uses the patient’s strengths, rather than their weaknesses, to make behavior changes

Ultimately, coaches act as allies, helping the patient to build confidence and self-awareness, encouraging them to become their own health advocate, and supporting them in developing the skills to sustain new behaviors.

Plus, studies consistently find that health coaches improve patient outcomes and patient satisfaction. One systematic review concluded that health coaching was effective for patients with cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. (9) These are some of the top chronic diseases plaguing our nation. Can you imagine how much healthier we would be as a population if everyone was able to see a health coach once a week?

The Perks of Becoming a Health Coach

Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of the collaborative model for physicians and patients, let’s talk about the benefits for health coaches.

A Clear Treatment Plan

While many health coaches can successfully work independently, working within a Functional Medicine practice enables the coach to be part of a care team that includes licensed clinicians and other allied health professionals. The combination of Functional Medicine diagnostic and treatment strategies with health coaching and nutritional support is the most successful approach when it comes to treating chronic disease.

Low Barriers to Entry

It’s much easier to become a health coach than to become a doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner. While there are certainly benefits from having a medical license, health coaching is an excellent opportunity for those who want to help reinvent the healthcare system but aren’t necessarily science savvy or ready to spend four or more years in intensive graduate school.

The Ability to Make a Difference

The first generation that is not expected to outlive their parents has just been born. Instilling lasting behavior change using evidence-based methods and witnessing patients rediscover their health and vitality is extremely rewarding. Health coaches can truly feel as though they are tackling the chronic disease epidemic, one patient at a time.

There’s no question in my mind that health coaching will play a vital role in the future of medicine. Given this, we’ll need millions of new health coaches with the skills and knowledge that I’ve outlined in this article. That’s why I worked so hard to create the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program. It offers training in core coaching skills, ancestral diet and lifestyle, and a collaborative practice model that links licensed clinicians with health coaches to provide the highest level of care for patients. We’ll be starting enrollment soon, so stay tuned for more details (make sure to sign up here to receive notifications about this program).

Are you interested in a career in health coaching? At the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program, we offer in-depth instruction on the skills and tools needed to be an effective health coach, and we provide you with opportunities to apply what you’ve learned in a supportive online environment. You get the chance to put in the practice needed to master the art of health coaching, giving you the training you need to help your future clients achieve lasting change. Find out more about how the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program can help you build an exciting, fulfilling career.


  1. Hi Chris and any Australian physicians/clinicians reading,
    Further to reading ‘Unconventional Medicine’ and listening to myriad podcasts and interviews with you, this article really drives home the role of health coaches in ‘battling the chronic disease epidemic.’ Thank you.
    Having researched different courses for some time now, I’m convinced the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program is the one for me. However, I have a logistical question about the program. I live in Australia, and assume I can still participate in the course(?). Will the coaching in the collaborative practice model that links licensed clinicians with health coaches be relevant in the Australian context? Certainly Australia also has soaring rates of chronic disease (for the same reasons, requiring the same behaviour change), but will your certification be ‘recognised’ by licenced clinicians/physicians in Australia?
    Many thanks,

    • Yes, our HCTP will be online and open to international students. All sessions will be recorded so you can access them at your convenience in the event you are unable to attend live webinars and calls. It is our belief that the collaborative practice model can – and will – be employed around the globe and our program will provide networking opportunities for coaches to team up with practitioners. One of the many benefits of becoming a health coach is that coaching sessions can be held virtually, removing location as an obstacle. As you know, Chris is a widely-recognized expert and thought leader in Functional Medicine and has trained over 400 practitioners though his ADAPT Practitioner Training Program. We have no doubt that our HCTP graduates will be highly sought-after health coaches.

      • Hi Jill, thank you very much for your response to the audience and for the Kresser Institute in building a bridge in this fundamental gap in the health industry.

        I’m based in Australia and am really elated that Chris will be launching this program.

        In my own healing journey I’ve discovered that emotions and spirit has a lot to play in healing the body.

        So I’m hoping that HCTP addresses all the non-physical aspects in healing for the individual, addresses the responsibilities/ ramifications of someone who is in a position to effect the lives of others, how to manage resistance (or not manage it) in clients, and the business model/ marketing aspect of starting/ maintaining/ growing your business and the virtual vs face to face business models addressed in ADAPT but for HCTP.

  2. As a pharmacist I think this would be sooo helpful to have under my tool belt. I would be better able to help my patients

  3. Dear Chris,

    Just a quick note to say how much I’m enjoying your emails, blog posts and various forms and sources of information and ideas. Your approach to your work and life (to me summed up succinctly in your two sentence profile descript above) is something I both admire and aspire to.


  4. I am a health coach, certified through C.O.P.E. (Center for Obesity Prevention and Education) and the Instituted for Integrative Nutrition. I would love to work in conjunction with a doctor of functional medicine in the North County San Diego area, but haven’t been able to find a practice that utilizes health coaches in my area. I would be open to any suggestions on how to get plugged into a forward looking practice.

  5. Chris, I first learned about you and your cause/movement thru a podcast that you did with Joe Rogan. Let’s just say in short, it changed my life.
    Since then I have continued to research nutritional health/therapy and have decided that I want to whole heartedly join the cause and begin a career in health coaching.
    I have researched and been in contact with several “health coaching institutions/training courses” and have been unable to commit to one. I a torn between the more science based/heavy course through the “Nutritional Therapy Institute” and a more broad coaching course that focuses heavily on behavior modification/science and business model in “Health Coach Institutes’ “ program.
    I say all that to say this…. I keep hearing an underlying tone/ message in through some of your media outlets that you may be starting a health coaching institute of your own.
    If this is true, when might this become available. I completely identify with your heart and perspective and would love to attend/ADAPT 😉 your methods and perspectives thru training if made available to those who are not doctors or have practices.
    Is this going to happen? I want in. 😉
    Please respond, thanks.

  6. After 29 years as a university Lab Supervisor for Biology and Chemistry Labs and as a Microbiology Instructor, I have decided that it is time to make a change! Six months ago, I made a commitment to pursue my passion of a personal philosophy I call “my health evolution for life”. I am currently enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified health coach. Health coaches are becoming a part of the health and wellness revolution! I want to be on the forefront! My goal as a Health Coach would be to teach people to be more proactive in their physical and mental health! As a microbiologist, I loved teaching students about the power of probiotics through fermentation of healthy foods! After making these foods, and then analyzing them under the microscope was one of the most meaningful experiences for my students and myself! Nothing is more gratifying than to be approached by a former student to thank me and tell me that I was a positive influence in his/her life! Now, I am ready to start a new chapter and again hope to make a difference in people’s lives, one step at a time. My business dream is to help clients feel their best through sustainable food and lifestyle changes. As a health coach, I want to make a person feel whole again by being a supportive mentor and wellness authority.

    I live in a small town called Drums, PA. I live near the Wilkes Barre and Bloomsburg/Danville radius where small business and Health Food establishments are slowly popping up! My dream is twofold, for this to come true, I would need an office /kitchen space to work with my clients. While I am still in the learning phase of marketing and business aspect, I have already reached out to people in the health and wellness community about my future plans as a health coach. Once I have the proper business cards and marketing idea, my business would be something like the following: Teaching clients to read labels, crowd out unhealthy, processed and bad foods, take them shopping to read labels, how to make delicious whole healthy real food. The most common excuse people have is that eating healthy is expensive and time consuming. I would show them that this is not true! Healthy eating and work-life balance can be fun and inexpensive!

    My business name as a Health Coach is “(Tammy’s ) Health Evolution for Life
    For my Fermented Food business: “Tammy’s Fun Ferments and More”

    I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with you.

  7. I am a Certified Integrative Health Coach, previously studying and graduating from IIN. While I like the sounds of the ADAPT program, I am wondering how much this will really be different from my training at IIN. I have already invested heavily in training, with IIN and countless books, webinars, summits, lessons, and research, and I hope to see something that will help the existing health coaches get more clients, rather than more education and expense,

  8. Chris,

    I am interested in pursuing a career as a Health Coach. I have been absorbing a lot through podcasts and reading online, but I know to be successful I need the credibility of a degree or certification in nutrition, and I am not sure where to start. I have a B.A. in Psychology, but since I’ve graduated in 2012 I have just had various office jobs. I am currently working at a university, so I am able to take classes for free. They are developing a Nutrition program here that will be starting in 2019, so I am considering enrolling in that. I guess my question is this – is a degree in Nutrition necessary to be a health coach? Is the ADAPT Program something that would be good for someone like me, who does not have any nutrition background yet? Any advice would be appreciated.


  9. It really helped when you said that health coaches can help a person reverse a chronic disease by teaching ways on how to stop the bad habits. With that in mind, I will suggest to my cousin to hire one since he has been diagnosed with asthma ever since he was a kid. This will help him manage his condition well. Thanks!