Nutrition, Exercise: Medical Schools Boost Teaching of Healthy Behaviors to Fight Chronic Disease

The following is an excerpt from The Wall Street Journal article by Laura Landro, and can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here.

An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but medical schools have traditionally given little weight to instruction on how to help patients live healthier lives.

The future could look different as schools and residency training programs have begun to embrace a field known as lifestyle medicine, weaving teaching on nutrition, exercise and other healthy behaviors into the core curriculum of medical education. This new push aims to provide doctors with tools to tackle chronic but often preventable conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes that affect six in ten adults in the U.S.

“Incorporating lifestyle medicine into medical-school curricula can resolve the inadequacies that exist in preparing physicians for the growing challenge of chronic disease,” says Jennifer Trilk, professor of biomedical sciences and director of lifestyle-medicine programs at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, which in 2017 became the first medical school in the U.S. to incorporate more than 80 hours of lifestyle-medicine training over four years of undergraduate education.

A number of U.S. medical schools have begun to adopt lifestyle medicine or embed some of it in their programs. Among them are those of Brown University, Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Oklahoma, historically Black colleges and universities including Morehouse School of Medicine, and schools of osteopathic medicine.

The approach is part of a broader movement to improve health and close gaps on racial disparities in healthcare, as research points to the benefits of healthy behaviors in preventing, treating and even reversing common chronic diseases. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology last year projected an increasing prevalence of heart disease and diabetes by the year 2060 among Black and Hispanic populations, which have historically had poor access to quality care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites chronic diseases as leading drivers of the nation’s $4.1 trillion in healthcare costs. And while the U.S. healthcare system has traditionally paid doctors to treat disease rather than prevent it, the opportunity to reduce costs is spurring new reimbursement models from Medicare, private insurers and employer health plans that offer clinicians incentives to prevent disease.

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