Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Cut down on sweets and processed foods. Increase consumption of fish, nuts and legumes. This rudimentary advice has been dished out to the public for decades, yet soaring rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses linked to poor diet – and which increase risks for stroke and heart disease fail to reverse. Part of the problem stems from the fact that doctors don’t know how to provide information beyond the basics. Inadequate instruction during medical school, residency and other additional training is a primary reason for this dearth of expertise, according to an American Heart Association.
While nutrition education across medical schools varies greatly, the study authors argue that both regionally and globally, there’s a distinct lack of dietary training for doctors. “In the U.S. healthcare system, we’re so disease-focused and rescue care–focused. I worry that we don’t focus on preserving wellness and preventive aspects,” researcher said. “Because of our focus on disease and rescue care, the basics of nutrition may have been overlooked a bit,” he said. The lack of education on nutrition is a self-fulfilling prophecy that some experts say breeds more disease and keeps our focus on rescue care.
“The model of ‘get sick and fix it’ is not working. The model needs to be ‘don’t get sick’ and nutrition has a huge component with this,”he said.
The new advisory found that schools which exceeded the minimum recommended hours of nutrition education did so by integrating the training across the medical school curriculum instead of containing it to a single course. Several universities have tapped into innovative ways to teach future physicians about how to manage their own diet to build a set of personal tips they can eventually pass on to patients. Schools are incorporating lessons through online, open-access programs, or by turning commercial kitchens into interactive classrooms where students learn about healthy cooking. Other types of nutrition training can be found in medical school electives that focus on real-life lessons, the advisory pointed out. At Boston University, for example, medical students were challenged to limit their weekly food budgets to the amount provided by the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps.
The report also highlights live continuing medical education courses being offered such as the annual “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives” conference that teams the Harvard School of Public Health with the Culinary Institute of America to help bridge nutrition science, health care, and the culinary arts. Eisenberg created the conference 14 years ago to address “the huge gap” on the topic he and others saw in the medical profession.