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If food is medicine, why isn’t it taught at medical schools?

Culturally and politically, we’re increasingly acknowledging that what we eat plays a major role in our health. Which is why it’s especially strange that healthcare providers know so little about it.

In a new report published by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, researchers write that, on average, students in medical schools across the country spend less than 1% of lecture time learning about diet [and it’s likely the case globally, too], falling short of the National Research Council’s recommendation for baseline nutrition curriculum.

Neither the US federal government, which provides a significant chunk of funding to medical schools, nor accreditation groups — which validate them — enforce any minimum level of diet instruction.

And it shows: While you and I might show up for our annual physicals expecting feedback on our what and how much we should be eating, just 14 percent of doctors feel qualified to offer that nutrition advice.

How did the gap get this wide? Much of it can be explained by the way medical curriculums have been developed historically, foregrounding disciplines like biology, behaviour, and disease to the detriment of food and nutrition. Today, the legacy of this framework makes it hard for medical schools to retroactively integrate nutrition into their curriculums.

“Because [nutrition] wasn’t prioritised for so long, there aren’t a lot of faculty and medical schools that have any knowledge about nutrition and diet,” says Emily Broad Leib, the report’s lead author. “To build it into schools now requires real investment in hiring and training.”

“People believe that nutrition is easy, when in reality, nutrition is most of medicine — and then a lot more.” Martin Kohlmeier, professor of nutrition, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

The report recommends a wide range of policy changes that could function as carrots and sticks in getting nutrition onto course outlines. They range from making federal funding contingent on nutrition training to performance-based incentives that encourage schools to include diet-related subjects in curriculums.

“Why are we spending so much government money to educate physicians and residents, and yet we’re not getting any impact in terms of these this large set of [diet-related] diseases?” Broad Leib asks.

The recommendations also implicate other players in the world of medicine, like accreditation organisations and licensing boards, for not requiring a baseline level of dietary expertise from schools and doctors, respectively.

Part of the reason that may be is the prevailing attitude society has toward food as a soft science.

“People believe that nutrition is easy, when in reality, nutrition is most of medicine — and then a lot more,” says Martin Kohlmeier, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “You have cultural, food production, and food safety issues. It is a challenge for physicians to learn enough.”… Read more here

Poor diet continues to be one of the biggest contributors to chronic disease and mortality in the US, killing one in five Americans every year. That’s a higher rate than three other risk factors — pollution, lack of exercise, alcohol and drug use — combined.

As the tide continues to rise in favour of ideas and policies that combine food and healthcare, medical schools may be next to centre nutrition in their work. Someone’s just got to prescribe it….

The New Food Economy: Read the full article here

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