Should You Take Nutrition Advice from Your Doctor?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My cousin recently visited her doctor and was told she needed to lose weight and lower her cholesterol. The doctor’s advice on how to do so: stop cooking, eat out more often, and order portion-controlled meal plans. I just shook my head in disbelief in the terrible advice given (especially since my cousin’s on a budget). And I’m not alone—studies show that physicians significantly lack nutrition education in medical school.

The Study
A 2006 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined how much nutrition education was really provided in medical schools. The results found that 93% of the medical schools surveyed require some form of nutrition education but only 32% require a separate nutrition course. The study also revealed that medical students received an average of 23.9 hours of nutrition instruction during medical school and only 38% of the schools surveyed made it mandatory to take the minimum 25 hours of nutrition education recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. What’s more, more instructors (88%) indicated a need for more nutrition education at their school.

Dietitian’s Education
In order to train to become a registered dietitian (RD), students need to take at least ten times the amount nutrition courses as physicians—then they embark on a year-long 1,200 hour hands on internship. The internship covers clinical practice, food service, community settings, and even allows students to focus on specialty areas during their elective rotations. After they pass their grueling registered dietitian exam, they still need to keep up with continuing education hours in order to maintain their RD status.

Other Issues
Besides the lack of nutrition courses at medical school, our health care system is set up so physicians don’t have time to sit down and understand your nutritional needs. They have a certain amount of time to gather your history and personal information, discuss your issues, find a diagnosis and recommend a solution. If they get 5 minutes to talk nutrition, that’s a lot. In this timeframe, they may be able to say “stay away from saturated fat” or “eat more fiber”—but what does that really mean to you? They don’t have the time to sit down and truly understand your dietary needs and make recommendations based on the latest nutrition research.

Bottom Line
A physician is highly qualified to give you medical advice but seek a registered dietitian to talk about your diet. RD’s  are highly skilled to understand how food interacts with your body, including any medical conditions you may have. They have the time to sit, listen, and talk about all your food and nutritional needs and concerns. To find a RD near you, go to the American Dietetic Association’s website and click on “Find A Registered Dietitian.”

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5 Comments on “Should You Take Nutrition Advice from Your Doctor?



Lauren Says:

Thanks Toby for highlighting the training and qualifications of an RD. We work together with physicians to create an optimal treatment plan for patients, people forget that it’s not an all or none approach. It takes hours of face to face time to properly counsel a patient to make diet and lifestyle changes, time physicians simply do not have. Thanks again for bringing this issue to light!



Kristie Finnan, RD, LDN Says:

The advice was seriously to eat out more often?!? You can tell just from the
Drs advice alone that he/she has not had any training in Nutrition. More Physicians need to refer patients out. And people in this country need to be educated on where to seek Nutrition advice. Thanks for writing this post to help educate people on the education and training an RD goes through.



Sue Rose Says:

Excellent blog!! I have just started a blog component on my newly redesigned website and wish I had thought of this topic.

You highlight a pressing and important problem to the population as a whole. I have been in private practice for 24 years and over the years, the feedback from patients on what doctors have stated has not gotten any better. I think physicians still see themselves as the top of the medical pecking order, and they feel they must provide a comment themselves, rather than make a referral to a dietitian and seeing us a team member. I have always evaluated a physician on the their willingness to make referrals. The better physicians have learned that they are inadequately educated in nutrition and we provide a service in improving health, not them when it comes to MNT and lifestyle coaching. Thanks for posting.



Toby Says:

Hi Kristie-

Yes, that was truly the advice given by a medical professional 2 weeks ago. I agree that a team approach with both the RD and physician is the way to go.

Thanks for your comment!
-Toby



Carlene @ Carlene's Figments Says:

It’s a shame that people assume MD’s have complete knowledge on anything health related. Thanks for highlighting how LITTLE nutrition training they have (if any at all) and why it’s so important to see a specialist like a dietitian.




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