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Time for med students to bone up on nutrition


Australia is at the forefront of a worldwide push to tackle diet-related health problems by improving nutritional understanding among trainee doctors.

As the nation’s waistline continues to bulge, with around two-thirds of adults considered to be overweight or obese, researchers have developed an online resource that will enable medical schools to integrate nutrition in their teaching programs.

Leader of the Web-based Nutrition Competency Implementation Toolkit, Deakin University academic Professor Caryl Nowson, said doctors were at the frontline in dealing with patients with diet-related health problems, and many medical students were graduating with significant gaps in their knowledge of nutrition and related health problems, adding to the nation’s health bill from chronic disease.

“Currently, medical graduates are ill-equipped to identify and appropriately manage nutritional issues of patients, which contributes to increased complication rates and hospitalisation time,” Professor Nowson said. “The inclusion of nutrition within medical degrees across Australia at present is haphazard and uncoordinated, and course infrastructures do not support the delivery of a sustainable nutrition curriculum within courses.”

Internationally, diet-related health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke are increasingly rapidly in scope and severity, and Deakin University Pro Vice Chancellor Brendan Crotty said there was global interest in work being done by Professor Nowson and her team.

The Toolkit, developed by Professor Nowson in collaboration with academics and researchers at Monash University, University of Queensland, University of Tasmania and the Dietitians Association of Australia, provides resources so that medical students can be taught to identify patients at nutritional risk and address associated health problems.

It also includes ways to review and map nutrition components in entry-level medical courses, an assessment tool and other web-based resources.

“Australia has the chance to lead thw world in this area by equipping medical students with nutritional skills that will bridge the gap between medical training and applying nutrition competencies to patient management,” Professor Cotty said.

“We believe that evidence-based nutrition knowledge to manage and prevent chronic diseases should be integrated into every medical course in Australia.”

Adrian Rollins