The University of Maryland School of Medicine is the first in the nation to offer cooking classes to medical students in an effort to integrate healthy eating practices with the prevention and treatment of many common diseases. Medical students will receive information about healthy ingredients and cooking methods, valuable tools for the future as they work with patients to prevent and treat chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
The cooking classes begin this week. The instructor, Chef Suzanne Huber, will provide a cooking demonstration and tasting, discuss cooking oils and types of fat, and offer a sampling of new products on the market.
The classes are included as part of a national initiative, called the Nutrition Academic Award Program. The program is funded by an educational grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The primary goal of the program is to encourage medical schools to increase opportunities for students, house staff, faculty, and community physicians to learn nutrition principles.
"We want to provide students with the knowledge and skills to incorporate nutrition principles into their future practice and into their own lives," says program leader Stephen Havas, M.D. "The curriculum includes experts from many different specialties," says Dr. Havas, who is a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Michael Miller, M.D., co-director of the program, says, "The cooking classes provide a visual demonstration that will have a greater impact than reading a paper about how to prepare a healthy meal." Dr. Miller, a cardiologist, is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The curriculum also includes information about behavior modification, according to Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D., a collaborator and teacher in the program. "Physicians need to be skilled in trying to motivate patients and helping them to implement and integrate healthy changes into their lifestyle," says Dr. DiClemente, chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Heart disease and stroke, both linked to obesity, poor diet and a lack of exercise, cause about 40 percent of the deaths in the U. S. population. Those same factors can lead to diabetes, which now affects 16 million Americans, but will grow by 165 percent over the next 50 years, according to projections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes itself carries a risk of heart disease, along with the potential for kidney failure, blindness and circulation problems that can lead to amputations.
Despite growing evidence that nutrition and exercise-related diseases are on the rise, Dr. Havas says most practicing physicians devote little time to counseling patients in nutrition and physical activity. In a February survey of over 2,000 people with diabetes conducted by market research firm RoperASW, about half of those questioned said their health care providers never discussed ways to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke.
"We hope this course will stimulate interest among medical students to ask patients questions about diet and exercise, show them how to motivate their patients to change unhealthy habits and ultimately help the students become good role models for their patients," says Dr. Havas.
Medical students enrolled in the course were surveyed just before the classes began. The results suggest they struggle like most of us to eat well and exercise. Three-quarters of them met the recommendation that 30 percent or less of total calories in their diet come from fat. Only 48 percent of the students met the recommendation for 10 percent or less of total calories from saturated fat. Twenty-five percent ate at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Just 22 percent had a diet that includes at least 20 grams of fiber, and a mere 18 percent exercised the recommended five or more days each week.
Lectures on nutrition and physical activity began in January for third-year medical students, and may eventually be incorporated throughout the four-year clinical curriculum. Already, medical student Ngina Jemmott says the program is having an impact. "Each day, I'm using the information we've been taught in my contact with patients," she says.
Another medical student, Megan Bazil, says she has learned an important lesson she won't forget. "We need to be a good example for our patients. The old excuse 'I don't have time' won't work. If you can't find the time to exercise, or prepare a healthy meal, how do you expect your patients to find the time?"
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.