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White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health Calls for More Medical School Education

Longevity By Nature

In late September, the White House released a national strategy to transform the way this country addresses hunger, food security, exercise and nutrition, as well as closing many of the disparities that create barriers to success. It’s been 50 years since a similar event convened in 1969. At that time, the conference led to school lunch programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and food labeling changes.

The 2022 conference illuminated the gaps in existing programs, called for reforms and divided the initiatives into five pillars of reform (see below). “While the following list includes many initiatives, the ongoing effects of hunger, poor nutrition and diet-related disease indicate that there are gaps in existing programming. Feedback from advocates and those with lived experience further emphasizes the need for a shift and provides an impetus for the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, which will serve as a launchpad for improvement,” the report noted.

Pillar 1. Improve food access and affordability: End hunger by making it easier for everyone—including urban, suburban, rural and Tribal communities—to access and afford food. For example, expand eligibility for and increase participation in food assistance programs and improve transportation to places where food is available.

Pillar 2. Integrate nutrition and health: Prioritize the role of nutrition and food security in overall health, including disease prevention and management, and ensure our health care system addresses the nutrition-related needs of all people.

Pillar 3. Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices: Foster environments that enable all people to easily make informed healthy choices, increase access to healthy food, encourage healthy workplace and school policies, and invest in public messaging and education campaigns that are culturally appropriate and resonate with specific communities.

Pillar 4. Support physical activity for all: Make it easier for people to be more physically active in part by ensuring everyone has access to safe places to get active, increase awareness of the benefits of physical activity, and conduct research on and measure physical activity.

Pillar 5. Enhance nutrition and food security research: Improve nutrition metrics, data collection and research to inform nutrition and food security policy, particularly on issues of equity, access and disparities.

After reading the report on existing programs and suggestions for improvement and reform, our organization found a number of areas where naturopathic doctors can support this important work to play a bigger role in primary care clinics and medical schools regarding nutrition and lifestyle medicine.

Given that the public trusts the advice of physicians more than any other expert when it comes to making healthier choices, it’s only natural that physicians should receive extensive training in nutrition, physical activity, stress management and mindfulness practices, and social determinants of health. Yet, as you well know, conventional medical schools do not adequately cover these topics at a level that gives doctors the level of competency they need to advise patients.

In 2019, the journal Lancet reviewed 24 eligible studies from the USA (n=11), Europe (n=4), the Middle East (n=1), Africa (n=1) and Australasia (n=7). The research showed that “nutrition is insufficiently incorporated into medical education, regardless of country, setting or year of medical education.” While at the same time, Lancet found that graduating medical students repeatedly reported that they lack the knowledge and skills to help their patients make significant and lasting dietary changes.

Physicians said they want more training because they lacked confidence in helping their patients make the necessary changes. In support of this effort, the Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Susan Mayne, PhD, is leading reforms to mandate more nutrition education in medical schools. Her three decades of work in epidemiology and cancer at Yale University make her the ideal candidate to lead this charge. She is calling for medical schools to include nutrition training.

“The national strategy recognizes that we need to do better. We need to make sure that [nutrition education] is built into the reward system for physicians through things like medical exam boards,” said Dr. Mayne in a conference session. “Physicians need to really understand nutrition because they are a key gateway to communicating to consumers.”

Each one of the pillars described above has significant overlap in the training that naturopathic physicians receive in medical school in nutrition. This conference is significant because the topic of nutrition is rising to the top of the American conversation among government policymakers and community programs. Now is the time for naturopathic medicine to find a place at the table to help train physicians in what we know about food as medicine, nutrition and healthy lifestyles for preventive health.

The Institute for Natural Medicine is working to bridge these gaps through our residency programs, community research and youth nutrition education videos. If you would like to join efforts for naturopathic doctors to play a bigger role in community health, please contact me at msimon@naturemed.org.

Conference: https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/white-house-conference-hunger-nutrition-and-health.

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine
In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies. Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research. Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator, and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009. Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.