Issue 6 / 25 February 2013

LEARNING to cook could be one of the best things GPs can do for their obese patients, says leading Australian nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton.

Dr Stanton was responding to a research letter, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which showed significant correlations between clinicians’ self-reported dietary quality and their ability to advise patients on nutrition and lifestyle changes after having cooking lessons. (1)

The US research involved an anonymous survey of health professionals attending a 4-day education conference called “Healthy kitchens, healthy lives: caring for our patients and ourselves” (2)

The conference included presentations by nutritional epidemiologists, registered dieticians, chef educators, exercise physiologists and behavioural experts, as well as hands-on cooking classes and workshops.

Registrants were asked to report their own nutrition-related behaviours at the start of the conference and, again, 12 weeks later. Of 387 registrants, 192 completed both surveys.

Respondents reported significant positive changes in frequency of cooking their own meals (pretest 58%; posttest 74%); personal awareness of calorie consumption (54%, 64%); frequency of vegetable consumption (69%, 85%), nut consumption (53%, 63%) and whole grain consumption (67%, 84%); ability to assess a patient’s nutrition status (46%, 81%); and ability to successfully advise overweight or obese patients regarding nutritional and lifestyle habits (40%, 81%).

Dr Stanton told MJA InSight that if doctors had never cooked for themselves, it would be problematic trying to tell an obese patient how to cook and eat healthy meals.

“Years ago the antismoking campaigns were hopeless as long as doctors smoked”, she said. “They found it very hard to be advocates for not smoking. When they gave up smoking themselves they became advocates.

“The same applies here. And [GPs] are important opinion leaders”, she said.

Dr Stanton said former federal Heath Minister Nicola Roxon and incumbent Tanya Plibersek had set good examples for their staff.

“Both ministers were aware that their staff were eating very badly and even with their workload, they still took the time to cook for them once a week. That’s setting a good example and doctors have to do the same for their patients”, Dr Stanton said.

“Practical information is very important and, like it or not, the medical profession is the first port of call for many people seeking help for obesity.”

Professor Garry Egger, professor of health and human sciences at Southern Cross University, said while he thought cooking classes for doctors was a good idea — “it’s well proven that if you’re a good example, you will have more success with helping your patient change their lifestyle” — it was also a question of cost-effectiveness.

Professor Egger said he didn’t think the strategy was cost-effective in the long term because doctors had to live in the real world, surrounded by messages of consumerism, just like their patients.

“Governments have to accept that the life we are living is not conducive to good health. Measures like food education for doctors are palliative if the environment around them doesn’t change.

“We have to make social and environmental changes at the macro level but nobody is prepared to do that because we’re too comfortable”, he said. “Our system of economic growth means we are driven to consume.

“Individual change is possible but you’re lucky if you can get one in 10 [patients] to change.”

– Cate Swannell

1. JAMA Intern Med 2013; Online 18 February
2. Healthy kitchens, healthy lives: caring for our patients and ourselves

Posted 25 February 2013

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9 thoughts on “Doctor chefs help patients

  1. Dr.sundar sundarm says:

    LEARING to cook could be one of the best things GPs can do for their obese patients, says leading Australian nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton.Does DR.Stanton means the obese patients learmning to cook and loose weight?
    I cannot agree that GPs should learn to cook so his Patients can loose weight

  2. Prof Mark L Wahlqvist AO MD(Adelaide)MD (Uppsala) FRACP FA says:

    Doctors who cook might also live longer

    Public Health Nutrition: 15(7), 1142–1149 doi:10.1017/S136898001200136X
    Cooking frequency may enhance survival in Taiwanese elderly
    Rosalind Chia-Yu Chen, Meei-Shyuan Lee, Yu-Hung Chang and
    Mark LWahlqvist

  3. Sue says:

    Learning to cook AFTER medical training? I suggest medical schools only select people who ALREADY know how to cook!

  4. Heather says:

    I think that the compulsory medical curriculum is packed enough already. However it would be a great idea to recommend (require?) that students do this via a private class in healthy cooking in their after-hours as part of personal development. Many graduate-entry students should be able to cook already!

  5. Sally says:

    Cooking may be the specific, but the issue is surely leading by example? Leading by example should be expected from all who profess to work in the “health” system, not only doctors.

  6. Celine says:

    The Obesity issue is vast—-mothers and fathers need to be trained in good food habits and importantly, their children must learn to eat good food; failing this, junior and senior ‘chefs’ must be taught what is healthy eating and what is gourmet eating when they sign up for ‘Master Class’ learning.For the vast majority, e.g. doctors who do not know about good nutrition,(and love the gourmet selections put on for free) it is nothing but a jumble of foods, kilojoules, quantities rather than quality, and so on.

  7. Dr. ARC says:

    As a retired doctor I have been the sole cook in my 2 person household for several years. I love cooking and eating and I find it cathartic in planning, buying foods and preparing meals. I am also over weight.
    Never-the-less, obesity is a multifocal problem. Eating too much of the right foods and exercising too little will do nothing for the increasing problem of obesity. Perhaps it is a better alternative than eating fast foods which produces the problem in the vast majority of over weight patients.
    I am waiting for the day when a successful medication without side effects is made available to enable accumulated adipose tissue to be removed.

  8. Overworked Doctor says:

    Most Doctors have more than enough on their plates to chew and swallow let alone digest. Spare them the toil and Train more dieticians and nutritionist to deal with Eating Habits.

  9. Guy Hibbins says:

    I think that it is certainly true that some of the doctors with the best published results in preventive cardiology and weight loss are either chefs themselves or are married to chefs or employ chefs to develop heatlhy recipes.
    Dean Ornish, for example, is a professor of preventive medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and got leading chefs from all over the world to develop heart healthy recipes for his program.
    Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic, a leading US heart centre, and Joel Fuhrman in New Jersey both have exceptional published results in preventive cardiology and weight loss and both developed their recipes in conjunction with their wives.
    See for example

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