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Medical School Nutrition Education

Most medical schools in the United States fail to provide even a bare minimum of nutrition training.

November 9, 2011 |
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Transcript

While bad nutrition advice from federal authorities has been be chalked up to corporate influence, bad advice from the medical profession more likely arises out of ignorance. What is the status of nutrition education in medical schools?

Back in 1980… less than a quarter of medical schools required a single course on nutrition. By 1981, though, we were up to 32%, then 37%, then slipping to 35% and back down to 27% by 1984. That was a quarter century ago, though, back in the dark ages. What about 20 years later in 2004?

In a survey sent to alll US medical schools, we went from 27% in 1984 all the way up to…. 30%. There was more nutrition education in 1982! On average, out of thousands of hours of preclinical instruction, doctors get an average of 23.9 hours of nutrition, with most getting only 11 to 20.

Last year we got an update. Nutrition Education in U.S. Medical Schools: Latest Update of a National Survey. in 2004 we were at 30% and now we’re at, 25%, nearly the lowest ever recorded. Only a quarter of medical schools require a single course on nutrition.

They conclude in their 2010 paper: “The teaching of nutrition in U.S. medical schools still appears to be in a precarious position, lacking a firm, secure place in the medical curriculum of most medical schools.” They advocate for, at a minimum, “the 25 hours of nutrition education needed to properly train physicians.”

Currently, only a small fraction reach even that trifling standard and even if they did, that means you could learn everything a “properly trained” doctor knows about nutrition in one long weekend.

 

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Peter Mellor.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Be sure to leave any ask-the-doctor type questions and I'd be happy to try to answer them. And please be sure to check out all the videos on the medical profession.

Please be sure to check out my associated blog posts for additional context: Health Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or WorstNutrition Education in Medicine: a Doctor a Day Keeps the Apples AwayIs Coconut Oil Bad For You?, and Treating Breast Pain with Flax Seeds

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Be sure to leave any ask-the-doctor type questions and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And please be sure to check out all the videos on the medical profession.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/gfortcher/ gfortcher

    25 hrs of nutrition training…sad. If I just watch your short videos each day I will get approximately 10 hrs across the year. And I’m not in it for the money. But, maybe that’s the problem. They are.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

      Unfortunately part of the problem dates back to early in the 20th century when public health schools were separated from medical schools. Many instructors in med schools are involved in research not related to nutrition. The clinical faculty don’t know the studies. So even if nutrition was added to the curriculum it would not necessarily be taught well. Of course the reimbursement aspect of medicine as you mention is an issue but it doesn’t explain why prepaid health care isn’t doing more in this area… it is complex. You can help by making health care professionals aware of this website and you might even give them printed copies of abstracts of articles cited by Dr. Greger which are related to your questions or concerns.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

         Hey Dr. Dons. I was thinking that talking about this to doctors could offend them. What’s your experience with your colleges concerning this issue? I’m guessing it won’t be so bad coming from a fellow doctor, but what if a patient brings it up?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/louisef/ LouiseF

    That is criminal! So instead of telling a patient to lower cholesterol via a plant based diet because they never learned about nutrition, they will prescribe stains instead.
    I have asked 3 doctors in the last 3 months what they think about the China Study. All 3 said they had never heard of it!!
    Thank goodness for people like Dr. Greger, Dr. Barnard, Dr. Furhman, Dr. Campbell, etc. that are educating not just the masses, but doctors as well.
    Thank you!
    Louise F.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/jtodd/ JTodd

    I’m afraid I’m one of those guilty docs who never filled in the nutrition knowledge gap that medical school left me with. NutritionFacts.org has been such an eye-opener, and I am already seeing some quasi-miraculous changes in some of my more motivated patients. Where else would you suggest I go to supplement my training in nutrition?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      My favorite source for continuing medical education credit is nutritionCME.org. It’s co-sponsored by the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. In fact they currently have my swine flu presentation up as one of the featured offerings!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

      This testimony gives me hope!

    • Mariel

      I like GreenMedInfo.com because they have the science/research information they base their articles on at the end of each article. It is one of my “go to” websites as well as LEF.org.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/chrysanthemum/ Chrysanthemum

    When they specify 25 hours, are they referring to 25 physical hours, or 25 credit hours?

  • Joan, RD, CDE

    Thank you for bringing this issue to light.  As a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, I am occasionally in the uncomfortable position of having to tactfully correct well intentioned but erroneous nutrition advice that a physician has given a patient.  Some patients tell me the doc has far more education than the RD, so he/she must know better.  Sigh:(

  • BIrigoyen

    What would you say is the #1 medical school (or in the top 5) for nutritional education?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      My guess would be Loma Linda, but when I was applying Tufts had the most (19 hours), which is one of the reasons I chose it over the other 18 MD/PhD programs I was accepted at.

  • Ronald Chavin

    Does Dr. Greger have any advice for people like us who are willing to eat only extremely healthy foods and practice a moderately healthy lifestyle with regards to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

    Should we go naked on medical insurance and pay the annual fine or should we buy the plan with the lowest monthly premium with the highest deductible?

    • JackZ

      Ron,

      If it were me considering those two options, I’d buy the cheapest plan with the highest deduction. I’ve known far too many very healthy people who have had various accidents, were inadvertently exposed to serious diseases, mugged, or just tripped on the sidewalk. By the time they were released from the hospital the ones who were insured were sad they didn’t have more insurance, but the ones without insurance were bankrupt and in debt.