America's physicians aren't educating their patients on weight, diet, and physical activity because America's physicians aren't themselves educated on weight, diet, and physical activity. That needs to change, and soon, according to a coalition of organizations calling for more coverage of these issues in medical schools.
In a recently released white paper (.pdf), titled "Training Doctors for Preventive Care," the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and the American College of Sports Medicine write that "America's medical education and health care delivery system does not currently provide doctors with the experience or incentives to deliver messages about weight, diet, physical activity, and chronic disease in a consistent and effective manner." The paper asserts that even while obesity rates in the US have been climbing, the average number of hours devoted to nutrition education has been dropping to the extent that now fewer than 30% of medical schools provide the minimum hours of nutrition education recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. The group also released an infographic (.pdf) highlighting the problem.
According to the coalition, physicians are aware of the gap in training: a recent survey found that only 1 in 4 doctors feel they received adequate training on how to counsel patients on diet or physical activity.
In the white paper, the organizations make 9 recommendations that they believe will begin to fix the problem, including the development of standard nutrition and physical activity curricula, increased nutrition and physical activity requirements for residencies and continuing education, reimbursement of health services "that target lifestyle factors such as nutrition and exercise," and the expansion of board-accredited training programs "to create a cadre of experts in nutrition and physical activity who can teach health professionals." The coalition's recommendations were featured recently in a Washington Post report.
"Ensuring that medical professionals have the tools and expertise to address nutrition and physical activity is only one part" of a broader agenda to reduce obesity and chronic disease nationwide, the report states. "Nonetheless, it is an area where practical improvements are within reach, if policymakers and stakeholders work together to implement changes."
APTA has long supported the promotion of physical activity and the value of physical fitness, and is involved with the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP), where the association has a seat on the NPAP Alliance board. The association also offers several resources on obesity, including continuing education on childhood obesity, and a prevention and wellness webpage that links to podcasts on the harmful effects of inactivity.
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