Doctors know little about the benefits of nutrition

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There is a shocking lack of knowledge among doctors when it comes to nutrition, due to woefully inadequate medical school training on this important topic… and patients are being let down as a result.

Ohio University researchers recently revealed that medical students may be more confident than knowledgeable when it comes to nutrition. Of the 257 medical students studied, more than 55 per cent were confident they could counsel patients on nutritional recommendations, but half did not achieve a passing score on a nutrition quiz… and only 12 per cent were aware of Dietary Reference Intakes.

Prior research has shown that doctors who are overly confident are less likely to seek additional resources and more likely to misdiagnose patients. The US researchers expressed concern that overconfident medical students may not attempt to further understand or explore important nutritional recommendations when treating patients in the future. Lead researcher and assistant professor of Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Elizabeth Beverley, said: “There is a long-standing disconnect in medicine. Nutrition is understood to be integral to overall health, but it is not given serious attention in physician education. The lack of knowledge about dietary reference intakes, which tell physicians what kind of nutrient and energy intake their patients need, is concerning because the guidelines vary dramatically by age, sex, and other factors, like pregnancy and disease.”

The National Academy of Science in the US recommends 25 hours of nutrition education for physicians. However, multiple studies have confirmed that most medical schools fall significantly short of that goal. As Dr. Beverley explains: “Medical schools are preparing students to pass board certification exams. Currently, nutrition knowledge is not evaluated by most certification boards. If we can change that, schools will adjust their curriculum accordingly and we should ultimately see an improvement in patient education and care.”

Things are little better this side of the pond. Most doctors are ill-equipped to tackle the UK’s epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases because they know worryingly little about how nutrition and exercise can improve health.

Take type 2 diabetes, for example, which can be completely reversed in some cases through diet and exercise alone. Thankfully, a group of forward-thinking medics and dieticians – including prominent figures like ex-president of the Royal College of Physicians Sir Richard Thompson, chairman of the National Obesity Forum Dr. David Haslam, and consultant cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra – recognise this and are campaigning for improvements in training on diet and exercise to reduce lifestyle-related deaths. In a letter sent last year to the Medical Schools Council (MSC) and the General Medical Council (GMC), they state: “There is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the basic evidence for the impact of nutrition and physical activity on health among the overwhelming majority of doctors. This has its roots in the lack of early formal training.”

They want the MSC to support: “The introduction of evidence-based lifestyle education, including basic training in nutrition and the impact of physical activity on health and chronic disease into all medical curricular.”

In addition, they want Britain’s 250,000 doctors to receive the same education and training to improve their ability to help patients with conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The MSC has since called for the GMC to increase the priority given to nutrition and exercise when it next reviews its guidelines to medical schools on what they should be teaching.

It’s definitely a step in the right direction. If they were to add training on nutritional supplements and herbal remedies to that list, too, then maybe we’d really start to make some headway in terms of reducing type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer stats!

Here's to your good health,

Rachael Linkie
Managing Editor
Journal Of Natural Health Solutions

References:

The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, October 2017, Vol. 117, 622-633

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