New curriculum aims to bring nutrition into medical education

By Nikki Hancocks contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Education, Nutrition

The Association for Nutrition (AfN) has developed a new undergraduate nutrition curriculum designed to create future doctors who will understand and recognise the role of nutrition in health.

After being given responsibility for the undergraduate nutrition curriculum for medical students in 2018, the AfN formed the Inter-Professional Working Group for Medical Education (AfN IPG) representing medical, nutrition and dietetic professionals. These representatives have worked together to form this new curriculum for medical doctors.

The curriculum builds knowledge in eight critical nutrition topic areas: Nutrition and Hydration in Health and Disease, Nutrition Screening and Assessment, Effect of Nutrition Status on Illness, Malnutrition (Undernourishment), Malnutrition (Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome), Specific Duietary Requirements, Hydration and Nutrition in Health Promotion and Illness Prevention.

Writing about the curriculum in 'BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health'​, the association states: "Given the current extraordinary prevalence of diet-related chronic diseases in the UK and the integral role nutrition plays in the treatment and rehabilitation of diseases, it is now imperative that nutrition fundamentals be embedded in core undergraduate training for medical doctors and be assessed in the new MLA in 2024.

"Medical doctors do not need to become nutritionists or dietitians, but should be equipped to confidently address malnutrition in all its forms. Doctors, who will see thousands of patients throughout their career, play a key role in helping to identify, treat and monitor nutrition-related conditions, as well as in delivering preventative medicine.

"Future doctors should therefore be skilled to discuss factors such as achieving a healthy weight in an informed and sensitive manner, as well as having the knowledge to refer patients to further nutrition support when appropriate. There is a clear opportunity now for medical schools to distinguish themselves based on the integration of nutrition practice into holistic healthcare training to adequately prepare graduates with the knowledge and skills in nutrition care, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care."

What's next?

The association realises that once teaching and materials have been embedded within the curricula, formal and rigorous assessment of taught content needs to be developed.

"This will require nutrition-trained faculty to be involved in the development of these assessments," ​the paper states, "which are ultimately needed to provide authentic assessment and produce doctors who are competent to use nutrition as a therapeutic option on graduation and throughout their careers."

Also noted in the paper is the lack of professional role models trained in nutrition which could create a barrier to adequate nutrition education in medical schools.

"Making better use of allied health professionals, such as registered nutritionists (ANutr/RNutr), registered dietitians (RD) and nutrition-trained nurses and pharmacists in multidisciplinary teams during clinical and community training offers the opportunity to enhance both interprofessional skills as well as the nutrition knowledge of future medical doctors," ​it states.

Background

There have been widespread reports of insufficient nutrition education during medical training in the UK and globally. The need to equip the next generation of medical doctors with better nutritional knowledge has been previously documented by NutraIngredients​.

Nutritank, a student led information hub of food, nutrition and lifestyle medicine, previously surveyed 244 medical students and found that 99% of respondents felt that nutrition played a role in maintaining good health,  97.5% believed it played a role in the development of disease, 94.6% thought that it played a role in the management of disease and 88% felt that patients would expect them to have an understanding of nutrition as a doctor.

A significant 91% stated they would like to receive more teaching on nutrition as part of their medical training.

The student hub also surveyed 142 junior doctors and found that 92% of participants believed patients expect them to have an understanding of nutrition as a doctor, yet only 26% felt confident discussing nutrition.

Pooled survey and evaluation data suggest ​most UK medical students and doctors feel their nutrition training was inadequate, with more than 70% reporting they could identify less than two hours across their academic and clinical training.

Source: BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 

Jones G, Macaninch E, Mellor D, et al

"Putting nutrition education on the table: development of a curriculum to meet future doctors’ needs"

doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2022-000510

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