Despite Enormous Health Care Costs of Unhealthy Diets, Medical Schools Devote only 19 Hours on Average to Nutrition Education. And For Many Key Medical Specialties, Requirements for Nutrition Competency are Absent
WORCESTER, MASS.—Today, Congressman James P. McGovern, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, (D-MA) and Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) introduced a new bipartisan resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives that calls for medical schools, residency, and fellowship programs to provide nutrition education that demonstrates the connection between diet and disease and develops the skills necessary to initiate meaningful nutrition interventions and referrals.
Obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke are among the leading causes of death and disability nationwide and are inextricably linked to diet. Moreover, the economic costs related to diagnosed diabetes exceed $300 billion per year and the costs related to obesity exceed $200 billion per year.
Despite the human and economic toll, physicians in training receive little to no education on the relationships between diet, food and health—often lacking the skills to counsel patients.
The resolution, which directly addresses the lack of nutrition training in medical education, was drafted following an earlier Congressional Briefing on Nutrition Education in Medicine, organized by the Nutrition Education Working Group. The group includes nationally recognized leaders in nutrition science, education, and food and health policy who meet regularly at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“This resolution should be a wake up call to everyone who is involved in training our physicians: it’s time to get serious about nutrition education,” said Congressman McGovern. “Nutrition, food access, and a person’s health are not only directly related to each other, they are directly connected to our progress as a nation. It is time we treat them as such. This bipartisan resolution I am introducing alongside my colleague on the Rules Committee, Dr. Burgess, is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to working together so that our medical students and physicians are given the training they need to improve nutrition among patients.”
“The lack of nutrition training in medical schools is a blemish on our health care system-one that leads to over reliance on medication and procedures, driving expenses up and quality of care down,” said Dr. Stephen Devries, co-leader of the Nutrition Education Working Group, speaking in his personal capacity as a preventive cardiologist, “It’s shameful, and it’s long past time for a change.”
“This is a matter of national concern. Federal dollars go to support medical training, but this investment isn’t helping the nation save on healthcare costs or prevent human suffering because of the lack of training on food and nutrition. I’m glad to see the House of Representatives elevating this issue to the national stage and promoting opportunities for actors at all levels to make this a priority.” noted Emily Broad Leib, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, and lead author of a report on policies related to nutrition education for physicians.
According to Walter Willett, MD, professor of epidemiology and nutrition in the Department of Nutrition at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-leader of the Nutrition Education Working Group, “we have massive evidence that better diets and lifestyle could greatly enhance the wellbeing of Americans, but this not being taught or practiced in our medical schools or hospitals. As a result, the life expectancy of Americans is declining and we now rank number 47, just below Lebanon, even though we spend far more on health care cost than any other country.”
The resolution recognizes the mounting personal and societal financial burden of diet-related disease in the United States and calls on medical schools and physician training programs to provide meaningful education on nutrition and diet. It also stresses the need for research to assess the status of nutrition education across healthcare professionals’ training and the important role for federal agencies to compile and share best practices, and to raise awareness of the critical role that diet and nutrition play in health.
Full Text of Resolution (PDF)
Video of Press Conference (YouTube)