Physician-Assisted Suicide? When Doctors Give Nutrition Advice

Image Credit: thart2009 / Flickr. This image has been modified.

In our society, we physicians are afforded extraordinary power. “In the case of the United States,” noted an article in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, “the question of how a profession held in low esteem and mired in a complex and unwieldy competitive system, managed to create a degree of professional sovereignty and social authority unprecedented anywhere else in the world, is a fascinating one.” In surveys over the years doctors have held on to first place in ratings of public regard for 17 occupations (and for some labor day weekend irony, union leaders were held among the lowest). Quoting from the book Women and Doctors: “No other professional in America enjoys the degree of authority that physicians have managed to secure. Almost unquestioned in their judgments, they have been given the authority to exercise power in areas that extend beyond their medical area of competence.” Case in point: nutrition.

Physicians have been considered by the public to be the best, most reliable, most credible source of information about nutrition. One survey of consumers found that they preferred the advice about healthy eating habits from their physician over 10 other potential sources including dietitians, the government, and consumer organizations. The sad reality, though, is that most doctors are taught next to nothing on the subject.

In the 1950s, “A Survey of the Teaching of Nutrition in Medical Schools” was published: “In most medical schools, organized instruction in nutrition is sadly neglected, despite ‘lip service’ to the contrary.” According to an update published last month, “Unfortunately, this statement is still as true today as it was over 60 years ago.”

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition even tried pitting doctors against patients head-to-head in a test of nutrition knowledge. More than half the patients scored higher than the some of the physicians! In today’s video-of-the-day—”Do Doctors Make the Grade?“—I offer an update on the state of nutrition education in medical school covered in my previous video, “Doctors’ Nutritional Ignorance.”

There is a group of physicians who take nutrition particularly seriously, though: the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. This Monday they are launching their next 21-day Kickstart Program, offering free tips and recipes to help us all transition towards a healthier diet. If you or anyone in your life was inspired by CNN’s documentary The Last Heart Attack to become “heart-attack proof,” I encourage you to take advantage of PCRM’s innovative program and register now.

-Michael Greger, M.D.


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