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A survey conducted by UNC Chapel Hill researchers found that, on average, students at U.S. medical schools receive 19.6 hours of nutrition instruction during their four years of professional education—significantly less than the minimum 25 hours recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. Only about one in four of the 105 medical schools surveyed met the NAS recommendation.
The findings, published in the September issue of the journal Academic Medicine, indicate that the amount of nutrition education provided to medical students in the U.S. continues to be inadequate and may even be eroding. A 2004 survey that used the same methodology and questions as the more recent one found that 38 percent of U.S. medical schools met the minimum recommended 25 hours of nutrition education. UNC-CH researchers have studied nutrition education at U.S. medical schools since 2000. “It’s definitely clear that things are not improving,” said Kelly Adams, RD, MPH, and lead author of the recent study. She is a research associate in the Department of Nutrition at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health and assistant project director of UNC’s Nutrition in Medicine program. “We hope that our paper serves as a wake-up call to [medical school] administrators.”
A total of 105 medical schools completed the portion of the survey regarding the number of nutrition contact hours completed by students. The number of hours taught ranged from zero to 70 hours. Just 28 schools, or 27 percent, surveyed indicated that they provide at least 25 hours of nutrition instruction. Thirty medical schools reported requiring 12 or fewer hours of nutrition instruction; Thirty-seven schools indicated that they provide between 13 and 24 hours of nutrition education.
Adams said the UNC Chapel Hill team also noted an apparent trend toward offering nutrition education as part of an integrated curriculum, as opposed to offering dedicated nutrition courses. That doesn’t bode well for nutrition education, she said, because integrated courses appear to be less effective at teaching nutrition.
“I hear anecdotally that when nutrition is integrated, it tends to get pushed out,” Adams said. “It’s not seen as important enough when there are so many competing demands.”
Jean Fisher Brinkley
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