GPs’ training is ‘outdated’ and needs to teach young doctors about the importance of nutrition and healthy eating, experts have claimed.
Family doctors, medical students and researchers accused medical schools of failing to give practical, relevant training to address medical problems linked to lifestyle and diet, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and depression.
Harrison Carter, co-chair of the British Medical Association’s students committee, called for nutrition information to be an “integral part of a medical education and respected for the importance it has towards future patient care.
“Nutrition hasn’t been treated as an important science within medical education, Carter told The Daily Telegraph, despite that the fact it makes up an ever increasing “burden of disease” within the NHS.
“For particular subsets of patients in hospitals, such as those who are trying to recover from surgery, one of the things that has to be optimised in their nutrition,” he said.
“Yet we know from talking to medical students that they feel under-prepared to be able to manage patients nutrition in the hospital setting.”
Carter, who has been working with Cambridge University’s NNedPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health said: “Lifestyle diseases are becoming a particular problem within the NHS, and we have all sorts of nutrition deficiencies, particularly in elderly populations.
“Malnutrition screening occurs in hospitals, but it’s seen as a box-ticking exercise in lots of cases. We want everybody to screened, and when a patient is identified as being at risk they get the appropriate advice.
“We have people who are overnourished and becoming obese, which is a strong risk factor or predictor of cancer”.
The NHS is expected to spend upwards of £10 billion on diabetes this year on diabetes alone, with the United Kingdom currently ranked the fattest country in Europe.
One GP told the BBC he believes eight out of ten patients attending his surgery have preventable conditions that could be improved through better nutrition.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee, GP and presenter of BBC One’s Doctor in the House, said: “The health landscape of the UK has dramatically changed over the last 30 or 40 years and I think the bulk of what I see as a GP now – almost 80% – is in some way driven by our collective lifestyles.”
Carter said hospital food has “improved” in recent years, but that there were “lots of other things around the provision of food” that needed to show similar progress.
“It has been the case than somebody in hospital may order some food,” he explained. “Then they may be transferred or moved, and another patients gets that bed and the food that arrives is for the previous patient. That patient may not like that food, or may be allergic to some of it.
“We also need to make sure that everything else that happens while they’re in hospital doesn’t impinge on meal times, so that patients don’t end up having a cold sandwich, when something warm would be much better for them”.
Currently, Medical schools are responsible for drawing up their own curricula, although they are required to follow guidance and standards set by the General Medical Council (GMC).
The GMC is in the process of reviewing those guidelines, while some universities have pledged to significantly increase the amount of nutrition science taught as part of their medical degrees.
BMJ editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee told the BBC:”It’s time we recognised that food and nutrition are core to health. There is a growing body of research out there that needs to be published – and we want to contribute to that effort.”