Medical school curricula lacking culinary medicine: 3 key notes

The idea behind teaching culinary medicine to medical school students is to prepare them to help patients prevent and control some of the most pervasive chronic health conditions. Although diet is one aspect of health generally under a patient's control, most medical institutions don't offere its budding professionals much insight in this area, according to a WBEZ91.5 report.

Culinary medicine explores how food, science, medicine and nutrition are connected. While some medical schools are slowly incorporating this subject into their curricula through voluntary programs, most do not require culinary medicine classes.

"We don't get a lot of devoted curriculum to this issue," Erik Kulenkamp, a first-year medical student at the University of Chicago's Pritzker Medical School told WBEZ91.5. "And I feel like it's one of the things patients are most curious about and have the most questions about ­— lifestyle changes and things they can do to prevent things from happening to them rather than treating them once they occur."

Here are three key notes from the report.

1. Few medical schools teach nutrition. Roughly 30 institutions across the country teach culinary medicine, and only about 27 percent of all U.S. medical school teach the 25 hours of nutrition coursework recommended by the National Academy of Science, according to a 2010 survey. This contrasts with a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that dietary quality is the single largest risk factor for death and disability in the U.S.

2. Public health experts have voiced concerns over this gap in medical school curriculum. In a recent article for Academic Medicine, David Eisenberg, MD, from the Samueli Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health, lamented that most medical students are unprepared to offer patients dietary guidance, "and more importantly there are really few, if any, requirements on the part of graduating medical students to be knowledgeable about nutrition and its translation into practical advice for patients," he wrote. "And those competencies don't exist on the certification exams to become a licensed physician."

3. It is unlikely nutrition knowledge will ever be required in medical school. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education doesn't mention any need for nutritional knowledge through its 34- and 35-page-long documents for physicians of internal medicine or cardiology. When WBEZ contacted Mary Lieh-Lai, MD, senior vice president for medical accreditation at the ACGME, to ask her why this was the case, she said, "We don't dictate the detailed requirements. We leave that up to the programs and the programs make those detailed requirements at the local level because it depends on the local needs and things of that nature." Dr. Lieh-Lai added that it is unlikely the ACGME would consider including nutrition knowledge as a requirement for accreditation.

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