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.
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.