Nutrition Education Curriculum

The Physicians Committee

Nutrition is among our most potent medical tools, giving us the power to prevent and reverse heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes; reduce cancer risk; and improve cancer survival in many cases; among many other important effects.

This curriculum provides a foundation of clinically-relevant nutrition information and was developed in response to the scores of medical students who contact us with concerns that they do not receive adequate, or even current, training in nutritional issues.

I know that when I was in medical school, nutrition education consisted of little more than a passing reference here and there. Unfortunately, even though our understanding of the relationship between diet and health has grown exponentially, medical training generally has not caught up with current understanding.

A recent study graphically demonstrates the troubled state of nutrition education in our nation’s medical schools. As reported in the December 1997, issue of Harper’s, 74 percent of first-year medical students “believe a knowledge of nutrition is important to their career.” By the time students are in their third year, though, only 13 percent feel that way.

The fact remains that diet is one of the most significant determinants of health and is the factor over which most patients can exercise nearly complete control. Given the scant attention most doctors give to nutrition, it is no wonder that heart disease, stroke, adult-onset diabetes, hypertension, various cancers, and many other diet-related disorders present at such overwhelming rates.

Hopefully, these materials will facilitate your nutrition training and help prepare you to discuss these issues with your patients. Remember, you do not have to wait for topics such as Nutrition and Renal Disease or Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease to be raised in class to start thinking about, learning about, and discussing diet and health. Start a brown-bag discussion group, the exact purpose for which this curriculum was designed. Simply schedule a meeting room during the lunch hour and use each study guide for discussion. You will also want to bring up nutritional factors for diseases you see on rounds, speak with your professors, and encourage them to address these topics.

Like most current dietitians and clinicians, we encourage the use of plant-based diets, even though this means that both patients and clinicians may need to learn some new eating habits. The high rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious conditions in countries that follow high-fat, meat-based diets contrast sharply with low rates of these conditions where plant-based diets predominate.

Dietary changes can bring enormous benefits for your patients, and they will thank you for the new degree of control over their health you will have given them.