To better counsel patients, study finds doctors need more education on nutrition

feet on scale weighing
Future doctors may be overconfident in their ability to counsel patients about nutrition, a new study found. (Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

A new study finds that future doctors are confident they can counsel patients about nutrition, yet most were unaware of key nutritional guidelines.

The research, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, found that in a survey of 257 medical students, only 12% had even heard of Dietary Reference Intakes, an evidence-based set of guidelines, but 55% were confident in counseling patients on nutrition. Also, half of the students failed a nutrition quiz given as part of the study.

Given the rising number of obese and overweight patients, the fact that future doctors are undereducated about nutrition raises concerns. The Ohio University researchers said most medical schools fall short of the recommended minimum 25 hours dedicated to nutrition education and suggest including questions about nutrition on board certification exams.


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In the study, more than 68% of the medical students agreed that primary care physicians should counsel patients about nutrition. “There is a long-standing disconnect in medicine. Nutrition is understood to be integral to overall health, but it is not given serious attention in physician education,” Elizabeth Beverly, Ph.D., the lead author of this study and assistant professor at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in an announcement.

Currently, more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese, and obesity-related diseases and conditions, such as coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers, contribute between $147 and $210 billion in healthcare costs per year, the researchers noted.

Doctors have another reason to talk to patients about their weight, as a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found cancers associated with being overweight now account for about 40% of cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

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