Although diet plays an outsize role in health and wellness and can be crucial to managing many common chronic conditions, medical schools tend not to devote much time to teaching future doctors about nutrition, a recent research review suggests.
Researchers analyzed data from 24 previously published studies that focused on medical students’ nutrition knowledge and confidence in their ability to counsel patients on diet. Overall, nutrition was insufficiently incorporated into medical education regardless of country, setting, or year of education.
Insufficient nutrition education can impact students’ knowledge, skills and confidence to include nutrition care into patient care. When students do not observe nutrition counseling by senior doctors, it does not become part of holistic patient care and continues into their medical practice. As well, the importance of nutrition for health is not reinforced with patients.
The current analysis examined smaller studies of nutrition training in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, New Zealand and Australia.
Even when curriculum initiatives focused specifically on educating doctors about nutrition, the analysis found that these efforts had only a “modest effect” on doctors’ sense that they could competently provide nutrition counseling or advice to patients.
Medical students in many of the smaller studies expressed an interest in nutrition and a willingness to learn about it, but generally perceived their training in this topic as inadequate.
Ideally, medical schools should be graduating new doctors who are well versed in the basics of nutrition and weight management and able to steer patients to the right specialists as needed for extra help making lifestyle changes, the study team argued.
“This study matters because it speaks directly to the type of medical care we can expect to receive,” said Dr. Stephen Devries, author of an editorial accompanying the study.
“If physicians worldwide are not meaningfully educated about nutrition, how can we expect them to emphasize anything besides drug and devices”.
Moreover, efforts by a growing number of clinicians and public health efforts to promote a plant-based diet for both patient and planetary health are not going to succeed unless doctors can address diet and nutrition issues during exams.
Source: The Lancet Planetary Health, online September 18, 2019.
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