Education

Food for thought: Medical schools lack adequate nutrition education

A new study shows that medical students lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to counsel patients on nutrition


salad-2756467_1920
By Shanley Pierce | September 25, 2019

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is the adage that portrays how a nutritious diet helps prevent illness. Physicians are on the frontlines of wellness—advising their patients to eat fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy and active lifestyle to ward off obesity and related chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

But a recent study published in The Lancet Planetary Health shows new evidence that doctors-in-training lack the proper nutrition education during medical school to advise patients during their careers.

“Despite the centrality of nutrition to healthy lifestyle, medical students are not supported to provide high-quality, effective nutrition care,” the study authors wrote.

More emphasis in medical education could translate to better outcomes for patients, said Laura Moore, RD, director of the Nourish Program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health, which offers a 24-week culinary medicine course to medical, dentistry, nursing and physician assistant students.

“It’s unfortunate that nutrition education isn’t intertwined throughout medical curricula,” she said. “Students really have that role of providing nutrition education and care to patients. They need to be able to do that in order to offer preventative care, so it’s integral.”

Currently, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting organization for U.S. medical schools offering the M.D., recommends no less than 25 hours of nutrition education across the 4-year medical school curriculum. However, many schools fall short. Students from medical schools across the country—as well as internationally—reported feeling “unprepared to counsel in nutrition” and as having “insufficient nutrition knowledge and skills to effectively support dietary behavior change in their patients,” according to the recent study.

The latest data by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that the national obesity rate was just shy of 40 percent. The prevalence of obesity among adults increased from 30.5 percent between 1999 and 2000 to 39.8 percent between 2015 and 2016.

Many experts, including Moore, believe nutrition education taught throughout the curriculum will better prepare medical students to help their patients prevent and manage chronic diseases linked to poor nutrition and obesity.

“When the curriculum was developed, we weren’t looking at the high rates of obesity and chronic diseases,” Moore said. “We’re building a new foundation of new physicians—physicians who will know how to talk to their patients about their diet. They will be on the forefront of preventative care and nutrition. We have to build this new foundation because what we have is not working.”

However, bridging the knowledge gap in medical school is easier said than done.

“There’s always competition for space in the curriculum,” said Jerry Clay Goodman, M.D., associate dean of undergraduate medical education at Baylor College of Medicine. “There are a lot of important topics that we have to cover. There’s both the growth in scientific knowledge and there’s growth in knowledge of nutrition.”

Goodman estimated that students at Baylor spend approximately 80 hours in lectures and sessions on nutrition throughout the four years of medical school, which is much more than 10 or 15 years ago.

The time challenges remain when medical students graduate into clinical care. In an outpatient setting, physicians have 15 minutes—give or take—to talk with their patients and provide meaningful advice. With so many potential topics to cover from nutrition, to smoking cessation, exercise, health care systems need to take a more multidisciplinary, interprofessional, team-based approach to patient education by engaging registered dietitians and physical therapists, Goodman said.

Moore agreed that the solution will be found in collaborative efforts.

“[Physicians] will realize the importance of providing the resources that dietitians can provide and referrals to dietitians,” Moore said. “They can start the conversation, but the dietitians can certainly provide additional information.”




Social Posts

profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

“This expansion allows the MD Anderson team to offer its full range of expert care – from cancer screenings and treatment to survivorship support - to patients throughout the north Houston area,” says our @kepostma. Learn more: https://t.co/N0KawR75qu #endcancer

42 mins ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Fresno rescue dog bringing joy to Veterans on cross country sidecar road trip https://t.co/vKiWEGzpiS via @CBS47 @KSEE24

1 hour ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

One resident shares his thoughts on how to increase the number of kids with health insurance. https://t.co/7l9y1nFwhA #healthinsurance

2 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

“There is a lot of interest in trying to move these new therapies into earlier stages to hopefully improve the chance of curing these patients,” says Dr. Rodabe Amaria of guidelines for melanoma clinical trials: https://t.co/s0Qva5nzpP @CancerFrontline #CancerMoonshot #endcancer

2 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Decades after Vietnam War chopper crash, Indy Veteran's remains come home https://t.co/3MqWtnvQC0 via @WTHRcom

3 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @BCMHoustonJobs: We're hiring! Click to apply: Instructor - Nurse Practitioner - https://t.co/zzueZYYFqU #Healthcare #TheWoodlands, TX

4 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

After chemotherapy failed to treat #colorectalcancer, Tim Givens found hope with a Phase I clinical trial led by our @DavidHongMD. #CancerMoonshot #endcancer https://t.co/0antdTOIcY

4 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @UHpres: Ribbon Cutting of our campus in Katy...UH and UHV thank the Katy community for their support! ⁦@UHVictoria⁩ https://t.co/8Eo3PU…

4 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @GetInvolvedUH: Save the date for InfraRED: Spooktacular on Thursday, October 17th from 7:00-10:00PM in the Student Centers Houston Room…

5 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @BCMHoustonJobs: Can you recommend anyone for this job in #Houston, TX? https://t.co/VvmTCpLGiF #Healthcare

5 hours ago
profile_image

Harris Health System

@harrishealth

RT @MHAHouston: @MHAHouston Chair Diane M. Scardino and Vice-Chair Dr. Asim A Shah recognized IMA Hogg Award Honoree, George V. Masi yester…

5 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

New Group to Connect Veterans in Illinois With Careers in Clean Energy, Sustainability https://t.co/hqhEpHIG5V via @wttw

5 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

Day and night, a deadly specter trails nearly 6 million Americans. Fortunately, UTHealth neurosurgeon Dong H. Kim, MD, is working to bring this boogeyman—better known as a brain aneurysm—to light: https://t.co/4AZJqywrFr #ManyFacesOfUTHealth

5 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

RT @RiceEngineering: .@RiceUniversity's Yvette Pearson has been in engineering education for nearly a quarter of a century. Much has change…

6 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

RT @RiceUNews: An internet search for "unconventional university" led this diplomat-turned-scholar from Africa to @RiceUniversity to study…

6 hours ago