All health professionals should study a nutrition education curriculum during their training to help better support public health, a new paper suggests.
Nutrition researchers from Aston University, with colleagues from other universities and leading nutrition groups, worked with the Association for Nutrition (AfN) to help develop a curriculum that could be rolled out to all medical school students with the potential for modules , to be taught in other health professional courses.
The paper, jointly published in British Journal of Nutrition and BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health looked at the development of a new curriculum aimed at medical students and made recommendations for its implementation at national level, with a view to subsequent implementation in other health courses.
AfN’s undergraduate curriculum in Nutrition for Physicians is designed to be presented to medical students as an integral part of their general undergraduate education, elucidating how nutrition interrelates with the study of other systems and contributes to an inclusive understanding of health and disease.
Currently, lifestyle-related health problems from living with obesity to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several types of cancer can be linked to diet in our communities. While in hospitals, about a third of admitted patients may be malnourished.
Nutrition and food play a key role in both keeping us healthy and helping us cope with disease, so it is imperative that we educate our future doctors and other healthcare professionals about the role of nutrition in patient care.”
Dr Dwayne Mellor, clinical nutritionist and senior lecturer at Aston Medical School at Aston University and co-author
The paper outlines not only the need for nutrition education and gaps, but how it can be incorporated as part of what is already a very busy and content-rich curriculum. It builds on areas of the curriculum where nutrition can even be used to help teach concepts such as epidemiology.
He highlights how historically medical education, along with the education of many health professionals who do not specialize in nutrition, often has only a few hours of teaching on the subject.
Dr Glenys Jones, Deputy Chief Executive of the Nutrition Association, who led the curriculum development project and co-authored the recent paper, said: “Nutrition is a key and modifiable factor in health and well-being, so it is essential importance that our future medical and healthcare professionals are equipped to be able to determine when nutrition can be included in a patient’s condition so that it can be part of their care.
“The curriculum is not designed to turn our doctors into nutritionists or nutritionists, but to give them the knowledge and skills to be able to think about whether nutrition may play a role and to have the confidence and knowledge of who, when and how to refer to appropriate specialists on nutrition when needed.”
Aston University is pioneering the key area of nutrition education for the future healthcare workforce. As one of the few universities in the UK to have a nutritionist or nutritionist as part of the teaching team in the medical school, these skills are now being developed to benefit the training of other health professionals.
Dr Mellor added: “As one of the few nutritionists and nutritionists involved in the teaching team at Aston Medical School, we have been able to integrate nutrition into our curriculum.
“It’s great to be able to highlight how nutrition connects to basic science areas like biochemistry to how you can encourage a patient to think about changing their diet into clinical skills.
Aston University has also started to explore with the Nutrition Association the potential need for nutrition training in other professions. From this an outline of a core nutrition curriculum is being developed for a range of health professionals.
Dr Mellor also plans to work with colleagues to further develop nutrition teaching at Aston University, helping students in subjects such as optometry and pharmacy to gain a better understanding of nutrition and how it affects their areas of expertise.
Jones, G., and others. (2022) Putting nutrition education on the table: developing a curriculum to meet the needs of future physicians. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health. doi.org/10.1136/bmjnph-2022-000510.