Tag Archives: Capitol Hill

ENRICH Physician Education to Improve Patient Health

This is a guest post from Angela Eakin, M.D.

As a doctor in my final year of family medicine residency, the issue of nutrition education for medical school students is particularly significant to me. The influx of chronic disease in America is linked to what we’re eating. This is why the ENRICH Act, which will expand the nutrition curriculum offered at medical schools, is so important.

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During my daily rounds, I see nutrition-related diseases in my patients. I’m not just talking about diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, or strokes. Acne, migraines, chronic pain, inflammatory conditions, and many other ailments may all be amendable with dietary changes. Many of the chronic disease states in America stem from or contribute to systemic inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is multifactorial, but what we put in our mouths or choose to keep out of our mouths can have a significant impact on the level of inflammation in the body.

The great part about this is that individuals can take control of their health through their dietary choices. The hard part about this is that there is so much conflicting information about nutrition and what is considered a “healthy” diet.

Although practicing medicine had always been my goal, I took a different path to medical school than most premed students. Instead of obtaining the common biology or chemistry degree, I completed a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics, followed by a Master of Science in nutrition science. I was excited to apply and expand my strong base of nutrition knowledge in medical school. However, I quickly learned that nutrition is not emphasized in the core curriculum—despite the fact that many of our country’s health problems stem from dietary choices.

My peers and I wanted to promote health in our future patients, but received very little education about how lifestyle choices, including diet, can directly impact disease risk and outcome.

Throughout my years of training one large realization has really stuck with me: Even the health care industry is nutritionally under-served. 

Misleading headlines and conflicting data can confuse providers just as much as the general public. However, through this confusion, physicians still aim to provide patients with optimal dietary advice. But how does a provider know what is the optimal advice? Even if a provider feels they know the optimal advice, do they feel confident enough to counsel patients?

These are questions that require attention if we want to help the millions of Americans who suffer from dietary related chronic diseases. Although there has been some support in the past, a renewed effort to help medical students learn and apply basic nutrition knowledge is desperately needed. The ENRICH act will educate future health care leaders about the importance of nutrition, arming them with tools to help reverse the rising chronic disease epidemics.

If we can help someone delay starting a medication, come off a medication, or reverse a chronic disease, then we’ve succeeded.

For more information about the ENRICH Act and to ask your members of Congress to co-sponsor this bill, go to www.ENRICHYourHealth.org.

We Must Address the Nutritional State of our Union

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Tonight, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. It is my hope that the President will lay out a bolder vision for improving America’s health and combating childhood obesity.

A study released this week shows that pizza is the largest source of saturated fat, salt, and calories in children’s diets. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since pizza one of the top sources of saturated fat for America overall—second only to cheese. What is shocking is that pizza is still commonly served in school lunches.

One-third of children are overweight, one-fifth have high cholesterol, and one in three children born since 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life. Obesity raises the risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer and contributes to lower academic achievement and increased school absences that will make it more difficult for youth to succeed in school and ultimately in their careers.

While the Obama Administration has expressed interest in improving health through a heavy focus on the Let’s Move program, the Physicians Committee is alarmed by the poor state of health of many Americans, the glaring health disparities between people who are economically challenged and those of means, and the continuing poor diet habits in children and the lack of progress in preventing childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions directly linked to poor diets.

This year, Congress must reauthorize the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act that contains several child nutrition programs set to expire September 30, 2015. In the process, many in Congress are eager to weaken school nutrition standards—in particular, the fruit and vegetable requirement. The losers in this Congressional food fight will be low-income children who rely on these programs and continue to live with or be at risk of chronic health conditions.

We must not only maintain the nutrition standards in school breakfast and lunch as set by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (PL 111-296), but go further to ensure low-income children have access to the most healthful foods by making these changes to all child nutrition programs:

  • Eliminating processed meats, which significantly increase the risk of colon cancer such that the American Institute on Cancer Research found no amount is safe to eat.
  • Requiring the option of a healthful plant-based meal.
  • Encouraging Congress to increase funds to schools and increase the reimbursement for breakfast and lunch to cover the increased cost of labor, school kitchen upgrades, food products, nutrition education for both food service workers and students, and ancillary costs to reinforce a healthier lifestyle in the school environment.

Encouraging healthier eating at an early age instills healthier habits for a lifetime and can be reinforced at school, at work, at home, and in the community. If the Administration is serious about improving the health of our nation, now is the time for action.

It’s not too late to sign our petition: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/lay-out-bold-plan-state-union-address-improving-america%E2%80%99s-health/ffnGXVPM

Kids Love Kale—No Biggie!

“When I have a kid who says ‘I love kale!’ that’s a big deal.” That’s what Robert Groff, principal of New York City’s P.S. 244, The Active Learning Elementary School, told congressional staffers at a recent Physicians Committee event on Capitol Hill. But soon it won’t be such a big deal, thanks to the work TALES and other schools are doing to make healthy school lunches the new norm.

Groff knows that kids will love vegetables and legumes—and won’t miss mystery meat—if food service directors just give them a chance. He noted the positive changes—including added energy and lower BMI—in his students after the school moved to an all-vegetarian menu. And the statistics support him.

In the New York City 2012-13 school year, 21 percent of public school students were overweight or obese. But that statistic is changing, and severe obesity in New York City public school students has decreased. Some officials credit this to healthful school lunch menu changes, acknowledging that providing kids with fruit instead of fruit snacks—and beans instead of burgers—can make a huge difference in their health.

A sample healthful school lunch tray from the Physicians Committee briefing on Capitol Hill.

A sample healthful school lunch tray from the Physicians Committee briefing on Capitol Hill.

Groff is not alone in revolutionizing school lunches. Broward County’s program manager for nutrition education and training Darlene Moppert, chef Anne Cooper (aka the Renegade Lunch Lady from Boulder, Colo.), and many other school food administrators are dedicated to providing healthful lunches for their students. For the past 10 years, the Physicians Committee has presented the Golden Carrot Award to school food service directors who perform exceptional work providing healthful school lunches. Just a decade ago, it was difficult to find schools offering low-fat, plant-based options. But as more and more administrators realize that providing kids nutritious meals has positive effects lasting long after the lunch bell rings, it’s getting harder to pick a single winner!

Despite the school lunch food fight going on in Congress, there is something we can all do to highlight the good results that come from subbing fruits and veggies for hot dogs and hamburgers. Do you know a school food service director who has gone above and beyond to champion students by helping his or her school serve low-fat, high-fiber meals? Nominate the director for our 2014 Golden Carrot Award! Applications are due by Aug. 15. Learn more and submit an application.

 

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