In 2016, Public Health England estimated that lifestyle-related illnesses accounted for 1 billion pounds (or $1.4 trillion) in direct costs to the NHS, the UK’s healthcare system.
Healthcare professionals in the UK are taking matters into their own hands to reduce the prevalence of diet-related illnesses, according to a recent BBC report. The focus is medical education, which has been so far inadequate in training new generations of physicians to address health problems resulting from poor nutrition. “Tomorrow’s Doctors: Outcomes and Standards for Graduate Education,” a guiding document for medical school curricula developed by the General Medical Council, mentions nutrition just twice in 76 pages.
In response, a number of initiatives in the UK are aiming to elevate the need for nutrition and diet-related training. BMJ, for example, will begin publishing BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health beginning this July. The online, open-access journal hopes to bring research on nutritional science and medicine to the forefront of academic conversation. Cambridge University has even asked BMJ Nutrition leaders and the affiliated NNedPro Global Center for Nutrition and Health to help develop new methods of teaching nutrition at its medical school.
Bristol University is piloting a “culinary medicine” course, where future doctors are taught the value of clinical nutrition in a culinary setting. During each class, students receive a clinical case that forms the basis for learning first-hand about small choices in the kitchen – like substituting whole wheat grains for white and adding vegetables to dishes that traditionally lack them – that they can pass on to patients.
The US still has a long way to go in training its medical students to address illness related to diet and nutrition. In 2013, only 29% of US medical schools offered the 25-hour nutrition education minimum required by the National Academy of Sciences. What can we learn from these new initiatives taking place in the UK?
One new medical education program called MS Weight aims to address lifestyle-related illnesses by training students in weight management counseling. The program’s efficacy is currently being studied at 10 US medical schools over five years, and if successful, may provide a valuable model for other initiatives. Hopefully, our medical schools will go even further by emulating successes from overseas.
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