Twenty years ago the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reported that 21 hours of education in nutrition was required but found that many medical schools did not offer nutrition courses.
The 1985 NAS report said: "Nutrition education programs in US medical schools are largely inadequate to meet the present and future demands of the medical profession."
A new survey, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 83, pp. 941S-944S), re-examined the state of nutrition education in 106 medical schools. The two-page survey contained 12 questions, with respondents - usually the person responsible for the nutrition teachings - indicating in which year of study that students were taught and in which context (eg nutrition, physiology, biochemistry).
The respondents were also asked whether current nutrition education was sufficient or if more was needed.
"Remarkably, less than one half (41 per cent) of the responding schools provided the minimum 25 hours or more recommended by the NAS in 1985," said lead author Kelly Adams from the University of North Carolina at Chapel ill.
"Also surprising was the finding that 17 schools (18 per cent) required only [less than or equal to] 10 hours of nutrition instruction," she said.
The researchers also found that during the clinical years (third to fourth year) 36 per cent of schools offered less than five hours of teaching nutrition.
Eighty-eight per cent of the instructors questioned also indicated that the students needed more tuition.
"Thus, it appears that we are producing a pool of physicians who feel largely unprepared to counsel their patients about nutrition," concluded Adams.
Other surveys in the literature have reported that physicians feel unprepared to deal with the growing problem of obesity, with 32 per cent of US adults clinically obese. Shockingly, the number of overweight children is reported to have tripled since 1980.
"With the rising epidemic of obesity in the US population and the knowledge that prevention is more likely to be successful than treatment, it is clearly imperative to ensure that medical students are adequately prepared," wrote the researchers.
Dr Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific affairs for the industry association, the National Nutritional Foods Association, applauded the authors of the study, but said that it seemed to confirm what many in the research community have long believed to be true.
"There is an ever increasing amount of good science that demonstrates how very important nutritive factors, like the use of dietary supplements, are for not only maintaining health, but in preventing disease.
Based on the study, information on nutrition, diet and supplementation cannot be accurately provided to the public by their physicians, which means that the public, who works longer hours and has more demands on their time than ever, making it harder to find good information, suffers the most."
Fabricant said that the NNFA hoped that such studies would be the "impetus for major wholesale changes in medical education to implement curriculum and instructors that provide the tools to best serve the public with.
Additionally, if the majority of physicians are not properly educated on these topics is it really surprising that many stories appearing in journals/publications geared towards physicians are misinterpreted and sometimes misleading?"
The American Medical Association refused to comment on the study since it was published in a non-AMA journal.
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