We’ve all heard the age-old maxim: “prevention is better than cure” – advice that comes into its own when talking about health.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, obesity rates worldwide have increased threefold since 1975, with more than 340 million children (5-19 years) being classed as either overweight or obese. Studies have shown that healthy nutrition and improved lifestyle choices are effective preventative techniques that can significantly decrease waist circumference and BMI. With obesity increasing the risk of countless health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, it is essential that doctors are at the frontline of this battle. They need to be armed with the knowledge and training to recognise nutrition- related diseases.
Having recently completed my Masters degree in Nutrition following a Biomedical Sciences degree – as well as being a qualified personal trainer – I know how much bearing healthy nutrition and lifestyle can have on overall health. My MSc alone included over 250 hours of seminars and lectures, 1,000 hours of self-study as well as more than 400 hours put towards my own research project. Medical students in Europe receive a mere 24 hours of nutrition education. It seems senseless that newly qualified doctors are expected to be at the forefront of pioneering healthcare, yet are not provided with the tools to potentially improve patients’ lives through something so key as nutrition and healthy lifestyle advice.
To be clear, I am certainly not saying doctors should know as much as nutritionists or dieticians from the get go. However, I agree with Nutritank’s mission to ensure doctors are confident enough to identify and advise on nutrition related issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and nutrient deficiencies.
Knowledge is key. Registered Associate Nutritionist Charlotte Constable Fernandez states “once doctors have this basic knowledge, referrals to nutritionists and dieticians can be made in order to provide those patients with the best care from experts in the appropriate field.” Without such knowledge, those early signs and symptoms will continue to be missed and may result in a worse outcome for the patient.
Registered dietician Sofia Russell believes “some of the medical profession refer patients to dieticians that are inappropriate or the patient only required very simple advice. Dieticians have been trained to provide detailed advice for even complex conditions. I feel that it would be more efficient and better for our NHS, if doctors were able to provide some of the basic nutrition advice that is evidence-based and patient-centred.”
Nutrition has been used to treat illness for hundreds of years. From using citrus fruits to prevent scurvy in sailors first crossing the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans to using lime to treat insufficient niacin intake (causing pellagra) in maize farmers in the early 1900’s. However, since the introduction of large pharmaceutical companies, doctors have been prescribing drugs as the number one form of treatment for many ailments and diseases. This is what they have been taught.
For certain preventable illnesses, if the spotlight was taken off drugs and put onto the aforementioned alternatives we could decrease the risk of dangerous side effects, greatly reduce the cost that these disease are having on society and help prevent many of these diseases taking hold in the first place.
Nutritank’s idea to update the medical school curriculum would mean that patients don’t leave their GPs feeling that they themselves must try and bridge the gap between diet and illness potentially forcing them onto unreliable websites and forums.
Whether you are a doctor, dietician or a nutritionist, it’s about time we unite on this issue. We all want the same thing – to provide society with the best prevention and treatment of diseases, and to live long, healthy lives. We need to build bridges across the healthcare, nutrition and wellbeing communities. Indeed, appropriate nutrition and healthy lifestyle advice could make the world of difference to global human health. Let’s give this topic the attention it deserves.
Lara Baudains BSc MSc ANutr