This year onwards students enrolled in the first and second year at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have to mandatorily study culinary medicine, according to a news release. The announcement comes after a recent systematic review of 24 studies covering seven countries published in September. It exposed the severe lack of nutritional education delivered to medical students worldwide.
The school is one of the first medical schools in the U.S. to deem nutritional education compulsory because poor diet can lead to several diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, among others. They will be taught cooking techniques that include baking salmon perfectly and cutting vegetables according to a certain style. Not just that, students will have to take lectures imparting evidenced-based information on healthy eating.
“This is an evidenced-based program that fills important gaps in medical education by teaching about nutrition’s critical role in chronic diseases and how to use cooking to inspire healthy dietary changes,” Chris D’Adamo, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at UMSOM, who teaches the culinary medicine course, said.
A survey was conducted on 250 students at the university who had taken a 2.5 hour long lecture on culinary medicine under D’Adamo’s tutelage. Among them, 80 percent said that the class will surely help them in guiding patients in the future on making the correct food choices to aid good health.
This sentiment was echoed by students globally, according to the aforementioned global review published in The Lancet Planetary Health. Responses by students across the studies indicated that medical students were keen to learn about nutrition to help their patients, and think that their education on the subject was inadequate.
The review analyzed 11 studies based in the United States, four each based in Europe and Australia, two each in Africa and New Zealand, one each in Asia and the Middle East. The results were consistent in pointing out that medical students lack complete training in the field of nutrition. Even the few curriculums that did have some inclusion of nutritional education did little or nothing to equip doctors to practice dietary counseling.
“Unsurprisingly, medical students’ nutrition knowledge, skills, and confidence to counsel patients in nutrition are all highly variable,” Jennifer Crowley, lead author, PhD, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said. “Despite the importance of nutrition for healthy lifestyles, graduating medical students are not supported with the required nutrition knowledge and skills to be able to provide effective nutrition care to patients.”
Where The U.S. Is Heading
All is not abysmal in the U.S. and some change seems to be in the offing. In September, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) released a report titled ”Doctoring Our Diet: Policy Tools to Include Nutrition in U.S. Medical Training”. In a first of its kind, the report recommends the changes that federal and state level policymakers need to make to improve the health and nutrition of patients.
They highlighted the huge knowledge gap in medical education, and also suggested that bodies providing medical accreditation and tests should take this into consideration.
“Leveraging existing funding sources, such as Medicare, and adopting other policy interventions to require nutrition education throughout medical training can improve outcomes for patients, mitigate the immense costs of preventable diseases, and change healthcare for the better,” Emily Broad Leib, director of the FLPC, said.