Nutrition is insufficiently incorporated into medical education on a worldwide basis, according to a new review published inThe Lancet Planetary Health. Medical students therefore lack the confidence, skills, and knowledge to provide nutritional care to patients—a disturbing fact in the face of increasing diet-related disease.

A press releasenotes that, globally, 11 million deaths annually are attributable to poor diet. Many countries recommend that doctors apply nutrition knowledge to support patients. However, the review looked at studies assessing the nutrition knowledge, attitudes, skills, and/or confidents of medical students or recent graduates of medical school. These studies also included assessments of nutrition curriculum initiatives.
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The studies consistently found that medical students wanted to receive nutrition education, but felt that there was under-prioritization of nutrition in the curriculum, lack of interest and expertise in nutrition among faculty members, and few examples of nutritional counseling during clinical years. Testing proved that the students were right when they reported a lack of required nutrition knowledge; one study found that when nutrition knowledge was assessed in a test, half of medical students scored below the pass rate.

According to a press release, the authors underlined that ongoing inadequate nutrition education is likely to affect the standard of care doctors are providing to patients, particularly in terms of preventative care.

Dr. Lauren Ball from Griffith University, Australia, author of the study, said in the release: “It is clear that despite the importance of nutrition for healthy lifestyles, graduating medical students are not supported with the required nutrition knowledge to be able to provide effective nutrition care to patients—a situation that has gone on for too long. Nutritional education for medical students must be improved and made a compulsory and meaningful part of the curriculum to support doctors for the 21stcentury.”