Today’s med students receive the educational equivalent of a Twinkie when it comes to nutrition training – tasty for a moment, gone the next – and not helpful in the long run.
Second-year Harvard University Medical School student Nathaniel P. Morris decries this sorry state of affairs, from a first-hand perspective, in an editorial in the JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Despite an obesity epidemic and the increasing burden of chronic, diet-related disease in the United States, medical schools have continued to neglect nutrition education over the last several decades,” he wrote. His own school’s course on nutrition was terrific – for the mere nine hours it lasted. There were no exams or interactions with patients. The lecture on obesity lasted less than a nice dinner out – just 45 minutes. In contrast, Morris notes, the school’s curriculum includes about 60 hours of cardiology instruction in the second year alone.
The lack of nutrition education produces “a national indifference that has affected generations of physicians,” writes Morris.
“Poor nutrition is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States,” he says. “Dietary risks now compete with and in many ways outpace the deleterious effects of tobacco, physical inactivity and other historically substantial health risk. Almost 70 percent of adults are now obese or overweight, and nutrition-related issues are estimated to account for more than 25 percent of visits to primary care providers.”
The future doctor urges fellow physicians to become part of the solution, not the problem: “There are so many opportunities in this regard to help physicians-in-training make a difference for their future patients. Medical students gain knowledge and familiarity with prescription drugs, complicated late-stage treatments, and specialized care. But physicians need other skills as well. The health care community has no shortage of model curricula or good ideas about how medical schools and academic medical centers can improve nutrition education. However, specific educational reforms are likely to make little difference without real institutional commitment to get nutrition education right. History has repeated itself for decades. The time is long past due for a change of course.”