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Bills Would Require Doctors to Train in Nutrition

According to the Washington Post, the D.C. Council is considering a bill that would require doctors and nurses to undergo two hours of nutrition study over a period to two years. New York has introduced a similar bill that would require doctors to receive six hours of nutrition training every two years. 

Each year, doctors and nurses in D.C. are required to complete 50 hours of continuing education in order to renew their licenses. They can choose from various topics. If the bill is passed in D.C., a nutrition course would be a mandatory part of their continuing education. 

Importance of nutrition training

Increasingly it has become evident that doctors need to talk to their patients about eating well. But the truth is that many are unprepared and untrained to do so. Studies have shown that medical students spend less than 1 percent of their studies learning about nutrition, and only 14 percent feel prepared to talk to patients about nutrition.

Poor nutrition is one of the highest causes of death in the U.S., higher than pollution, lack of exercise, and alcohol and drug abuse combined. In fact, poor diet kills one in five Americans each year. According to the World Health Organization, obesity rates have tripled since 1975. In addition, death rates due to heart disease are on the rise, and nutrition and heart disease are directly linked. 

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Opposition over the bill

Some doctors opposed the bill, saying that it would add another burden to them. Other doctors argue that a two-hour course would not be enough to make them experts on nutrition, and that a patient would be better served seeing a dietitian

Others argue that even two hours of education can make a big difference in helping a patient to gain better nutrition habits. Even with two hours of nutrition education, doctors can refer patients to nutritionists armed with the knowledge of what to look for and how to get them the right help. 

Recommendations for doctors

In a commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Neal Barnard recommends that:

  1. Nutrition continuing education should be required for doctors everywhere.
  2. Physicians should work in conjunction with registered dietitians.
  3. Electronic medical records services should include nutrition questions and handouts.
  4. Doctors should act as role models for patients by practicing healthy eating habits.

Time will tell whether D.C., New York, and other states will follow these recommendations for better health for all Americans.