Nutrition Education for Medical Students

September 30, 2022


Earlier this year, as an initiative to improve patient health and wellness, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a critical bipartisan resolution on nutrition education for medical students.

H.Res.1118 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States recognizes the mounting personal and financial burden of diet-related disease in the United States and calls on medical schools, graduate medical education programs, and other health professional training programs to provide meaningful physician and health professional education on nutrition and diet. – 117th Congress (2021-2022)

This legislation calls on medical schools and other professional healthcare training programs to meaningfully incorporate nutrition education into their curricula, including the advancement of nutritional research and raising awareness of the crucial role that nutrition plays in helping patients to live healthier lives. In addition, the resolution hopes to reduce economic costs related to diagnosed diabetes, which exceeds $300 billion per year, and the rising costs related to obesity, which exceeds $200 billion per year.

The government’s intent is to improve health across the U.S. by better preparing medical professionals to meet the interrelated hunger, nutrition, and health crises in America. The resolution was introduced by Representatives James P. McGovern (D-Mass) and Michael C. Burgess M.D. (R-Texas). The move is considered a strong show of support by the Federal government for activities that will ensure those entering training programs for health care professions, such as medical schools, residencies, and fellowships, will receive more substantive training in nutrition and diet.

Statement from Task Force Co-chair Dean Dariush Mozaffarian

“We are failing to prepare doctors and nurses to talk to their patients about nutrition, much less to intervene,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean and Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Professor of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine and Division of Cardiology, Tufts Medical Center. “Today, more Americans are sick than are healthy, suffering from diet-related chronic diseases caused by a food system and policies that make it hard to achieve good nutrition. These challenges are harming Americans in all 50 states in profound and inequitable ways — and especially Americans who live in rural areas, have lower incomes, or are racial or ethnic minorities, who face higher rates of diabetes, obesity, stroke, and heart disease.”

Medical Schools to Increase Focus on Diet

If you ask a doctor, they will likely tell you that one of the best ways to live a long and healthy life is through proper nutrition. After all, it is not a secret that eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and legumes while cutting down on sweets and processed foods may help prevent the onset of a cluster of biochemical and physiological conditions that can increase a population’s risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. Although metabolic syndrome is not a disease in itself, it is characterized by a group of risk factors that include high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal (visceral) fat deposits.

It hasn’t just been Congress calling for greater nutrition education for medical students. Many public and private organizations are focusing on policy approaches to increase nutrition competency across medical professions throughout the United States. A recent report by Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy (FLPC) calls for greater nutrition education in all fields of medicine. “Despite the overwhelming evidence proving diet is vital to good health, medical professionals receive almost no education on diet or nutrition,” says Emily Broad Lieb, director of the FLPC. On average, estimates show students in medical schools across the country spend less than one percent of lecture time devoted to dietary health.

Current Role of the Food and Drug Administration

Medical providers depend heavily on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its role in protecting public health by regulating pharmaceutical drugs (for both humans and animals), medical devices, tobacco products, cosmetics, electronic products that emit radiation, and food products. Whereas some of these require the coveted “FDA Approved” rating, others must contain specific disclaimers before they can be marketed to the public. Nonetheless, foods and supplements fall into a separate category. You may have seen wording in a commercial suggesting a product as approved, but the fact is the FDA is not authorized to approve dietary supplements, medical foods, functional foods, or food in general for its safety or effectiveness.

NOTE: Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) is a voluntary notification process under which a manufacturer of certain dietary food ingredients may submit a conclusion that the use of an ingredient is GRAS for the product’s intended conditions without any premarket approval by the FDA.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that was amended in 1994 to establish the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the FDA is limited to post market enforcement only. However, a private citizen, business, or whistleblower can enter a complaint through the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal to launch an investigation by the agency. Although dietary supplements must contain a Supplement Label, companies that market supplements with a structure-function claim must also include a disclaimer stating the product has not been evaluated by the FDA, and that the product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, e.g. – diabetes or obesity. In addition, any product intended to do so or to alleviate symptoms is a drug and will be subject to all FDA requirements that apply under law.

Education May Help Doctors Realize What They Don’t Know

“It is good news,” says Hans Wolf, MD, the founder of WOLFPACC Physicians Achievement Concept Course . “Medical students understanding more about how food choices and dietary supplementation affect a patient’s health and wellness should not be considered a threat to anyone.” Since poor dietary intake continues to be one of the biggest contributors to chronic disease and mortality in the United States, it is prudent to add nutrition education across all healthcare curricula.

Many feel that doctors who have expertise in nutrition will be more likely to spot diet-related issues much earlier in a patient’s prognosis, which could mean more referrals to nutritionists and dietitians. Hopefully, the added focus on nutrition education for medical students can help reduce the growing number of Americans with serious diet-related conditions. Eating a good quality diet is a proven step in preventing deficiencies in important nutrients but there are certain populations and situations in which someone cannot always eat a variety of nutritious foods to achieve optimal health.

Deficiency of a Single Nutrient Can Alter Immunity

According to an article in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a deficiency of a single nutrient can alter the body’s immune response. While food technically is not considered a medicine, healthcare specialists often use the term nutritional medicine or medical food to describe supervised dietary support used in the management of a disease, such as a hereditary metabolic disorder. Nutrients also can be the underlying cause of a medical condition like celiac disease. Nonetheless, it is one’s innate immunity that provides the first line of defense from pathogens trying to enter the person’s body. When pathogens attack healthy cells and tissue, the inflammation that occurs most often has a direct link to a negative medical outcome.

Better dietary intake could have an unparalleled impact on public health as physicians and other healthcare specialists become more effective advocates for proper diet and nutrition. At WOLFPACC, we focus on helping you master USMLE and COMLEX test taking skills to be better prepared for all licensing exams as well as to become a competent practicing physician. Let Dr. Hans Wolf and his experienced staff empower you with the skills to achieve exceptional results on your medical licensing exams.

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