Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Cut down on sweets and processed foods. Increase consumption of fish, nuts and legumes. This rudimentary advice has been dished out to the public for decades, yet soaring rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses linked to poor diet – and which increase risks for stroke and heart disease – fail to reverse. Part of the problem stems from the fact that doctors don’t know how to provide information beyond the basics.
It is a sign of the times that even the normally conservative American Heart Association is beginning to recognize how nutrition remains almost completely ignored in medical school curriculums. Currently, almost all clinicians have very little understanding of the role played by vitamins and other essential micronutrients in maintaining health and preventing disease. This makes it particularly absurd when, for example, patients are being advised to talk to their doctors for advice on using supplements.
Illustrating the scale of the problem, research published in 2015 looked at 121 medical schools in the United States and found they were providing an average of only 19 hours of nutrition education during a four-year curriculum. Worryingly, over a third of the schools reported requiring 12 or fewer hours of nutritional instruction – with some actually requiring none at all!
Fortunately, therefore, in another promising sign that things are changing, the BBC recently reported that medical students in the UK are now openly complaining they currently learn almost nothing about the way diet and lifestyle affect health. Saying they should be taught more, the students argue that what they are being taught is neither practical nor relevant to most of the medical problems they encounter during their training. Frustrated with the lack of nutrition education they receive, medical students at Bristol University in the UK are taking matters into their own hands and have founded an online organization that helps medical students share nutrition science research. They have also started organizing nutrition-themed events and lectures on campus themselves.
With the British Medical Journal (BMJ) having also recently announced it will launch a new nutrition journal in July 2018, it is becoming increasingly clear that some of the key necessary elements for a new preventive system of healthcare are beginning to be put into place. To take a look at our Foundation’s vision for what a preventive system of healthcare should look like in the 21st century, we encourage you to read and watch Dr. Rath’s Barletta Declaration.