“Food is medicine.” It’s a refrain you hear a lot—including from doctors. Which is why it’s surprising news that MDs aren’t taught exactly how food and wellness are connected in medical school. According to integrative and functional medicine Frank Lipman, MD, when he was in medical school, the curriculum devoted no more than two hours to nutrition. And to his knowledge, not much has changed since. “It’s still a huge deficiency in the current medical training of physicians,” he says.
This month, Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) released a report urging undergraduate, graduate, and medical school training for doctors to include more nutritional training. This will allow doctors “to support better outcomes for individual patients and to address the most common and costly health risks facing our country,” reads the report, with additional recommendations that nutrition education be a requirement for physicians to keep their medical license.
“Of course physicians should receive more nutrition education,” Dr. Lipman says. “We have to get beyond the disease care model that we doctors get trained in where the only therapeutic tools taught are drugs and surgery. If we are going to practice health care, nutrition is essential to any health care model. In the current disease care model, nutrition should play a much more important role.”
Integrative family medicine physician Bindiya Gandhi, MD agrees. “Doctors only spend one hour learning about nutrition in four years of medical school—it’s not enough,” she says. “I wish we spent more time when I was a medical student. Nutrition is always a good base to start with patients and lifestyle medicine is the way to go when treating a lot different ailments ranging from diabetes to autoimmune disease and more.” Dr. Gandhi adds that doctors are taught to treat disease; the education on prevention is minimal.
With the rise in interest in integrative health, the tide may be changing—but it will take systematic curriculum changes to weave in the “food is medicine” approach into medical training. But with this urging from Harvard, it’s at least a start.