Food is medicine, yet very few doctors report feeling properly trained to give diet and nutrition advice, despite the increase in obesity related illness. This is changing, though slowly.
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
Can you imagine a trip to the doctor that ends with a prescription for apples and kale? Or trying to make out a doctor’s scrawl prescribing “Legumes three times per week”?
In the US, Americans suffer from a host of preventable lifestyle diseases – caused mainly by bad habits, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition. These lifestyle diseases include obesity, and diabetes is among the ensuing complications. Food can be medicine; a healthy diet can prevent disease. So are doctors ready to discuss nutrition with their patients?
Very few doctors report feeling properly trained to give diet and nutrition advice to their patients. There’s a knowledge gap and it’s one that’s in dire need of fixing.
The Importance of Preventing Illness and Disease
Each year, seven out of ten deaths among Americans are caused by chronic diseases. (This includes cancer and heart disease.) Close to one of every two adults has at least one chronic illness. Many chronic illnesses are preventable. Children, too, are increasingly at risk. One in three children in America is overweight or obese. This extra weight predisposes them to chronic disease. In Hispanic and African American communities, the rates of obesity are even higher.
The Affordable Care Act calls for a National Prevention Strategy, a comprehensive plan to help increase the number of healthy Americans at every stage of life. From the CDC:
“Created by the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council in consultation with the public and an Advisory Group of outside experts, the Strategy recognizes that good health comes not just from receiving quality medical care but from stopping disease before it starts. Good health also comes from clean air and water, safe outdoor spaces for physical activity, safe worksites, healthy foods, violence-free environments, and healthy homes. Prevention should be woven into all aspects of our lives, including where and how we live, learn, work, and play. Everyone—businesses, educators, health care institutions, government, communities, and every single American—has a role in creating a healthier nation.”
Our focus in healthcare is more often on treating an illness after it’s occurred. But that focus must shift to the prevention of disease and illness. Shifting our focus will create healthier homes, schools, workplaces, and communities. People can live longer, more productive lives, and reduce their healthcare costs.
Nutrition, Diet, and Preventing Disease
A wholesome diet of legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains provides your body with essential nutrients needed to maintain wellness and fight disease. This kind of diet is preventative in itself: people who eat this way regularly have a lower incidence of major chronic diseases and especially diet-related diseases. (A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, showed that what we eat is the single most important factor behind premature death and disease.)
Only 25 percent of medical schools offer the 25 recommended hours of nutrition training recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. This training is not required, but it really should be. Diseases are prevented through good diet, but the majority of doctors feel unprepared to provide nutrition advice, although their patients ask them for guidance.
There are some uplifting changes afoot as students and doctors alike seek nutrition training previously not offered. Tulane University School of Medicine puts their students through a rotation with cooks and culinary students to learn about the power of food as medicine. Medical students in Chicago are taking culinary nutrition courses (for no credit!) in order to learn more about the healing and preventative nature of food.
Prescriptions for a healthy meal may not be that far off, either. A 2013 program in New York city did just that. Patients filled their prescriptions (and their bellies) at farmers’ markets across the city.
Who knows! Next time you go to the doctor, you might come back with a prescription to eat more carrots!
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