Nutrition Education: The Doctor is Out

Fruits and Veggies

Having a healthy, flourishing life is often as simple as eating right. Yet, many people lack the knowledge, resources and access to healthy food they need to ensure their own wellbeing. About 38 percent [i] of Americans admit to not maintaining healthy diets. This has lead to more than half of the population being classified as obese in previous years and a surge in cardiovascular and endocrine diseases. What’s worse is that the healthcare specialists they go to for help often lack basic nutrition training themselves.

As a result, many populations are at odds with health and wellbeing. According to the 2016 Global Nutrition Report produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), 44 percent of the 129 countries surveyed had severe malnutrition and obesity. [ii] The United States is among 14 nations that have the highest rates of obesity and malnutrition.

These results come after years of implementing developmental project models. Some have been successful, but considering the current state of health in America, it is clearer than ever that we need to take more innovative measures.

Modernizing Medical Education

Disease and premature death have both been linked to nation-wide problems with proper nutrition.[iii] This phenomenon is closely related to the limited or lack of nutrition training for doctors. Some experts refer to this void as a “deficiency of nutrition education.” [ii]

Medical students receive less than two hours of nutrition education over a four-year period. [ii] Most of their essential nutrition training is from basic classes, which occur in the earlier years of medical school. [ii] A Samueli Institute article capped the medical school hours dedicated to nutrition at 19.6 hours, in 2013. [iv] That is less than 1 percent of students’ total lecture hours. In a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 80 percent of medical schools provide inadequate nutrition training for future doctors. [v] Once these doctors begin practicing, they usually receive no additional nutrition training.

A 2010 survey revealed that only 14 percent of physicians considered themselves adequately trained to counsel patients on nutrition. [v] Still most of the general public is willing to consult their doctor for advice on healthy eating. One survey calculated that figure to about 61 percent. [ii] In light of these statistics, Samueli Institute recommends:

  • Provide nutrition education to medical students in the first two years of training
  • Repeat nutrition education once medical students begin a specialty
  • Pass the training from properly trained physicians to patients.

Making Information Available

Nutrition education is not readily available for the general public. This is true for adults and school-age children alike. For children, however, the truth is much harsher. More than 17 percent of children in the United States are obese. [vi] This number increases when factors like race/ethnicity and economics come into play.

Socioeconomics determines not only what people know about nutrition, but access to nutritious foods in their communities. [vii] Considering this reality, teaching nutrition alone cannot solve the country’s problem. As a nation, we must pass policies that promote health and human flourishing in our neighborhoods.

Nutrition and National Security

The United States military is already making strides to improve the resilience and readiness of service members by implementing dietary changes for active duty service members. Working with Samueli Institute, the Teaching Kitchens framework provided a training approach to cooking in a military environment. In just three phases, orchestrators of the Teaching Kitchens could help make healthier I’ve tied it to Teaching Kitchens. foods accessible, change eating behaviors and improve the overall quality of life to military servicemembers.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has now made regulations for the use of dietary supplements in meals. [viii] Some food additives, even those that come from natural sources like plants, have been found to have no nutritional significance. The DoD decided that what doesn’t help one’s diet, should not be consumed. More importantly, the DoD is educating service members on the reasons behind these nutritional regulations.

Nutrition starts with education. Health policies should be in education policies, and this education should be for everyone.


[i] Matthews J, (2011). 2011 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food. International food Information Council Foundation.
[ii] Global Nutrition Report (2016). From Promise To Impact: Ending Malnutrition by 2030. World Health Organization.
[iii] Devries S, Dalen J, Eisenberg D, Maizes V, Ornish D, Prasad A , Sierpina V, Weill, A, and Willett W. (2014) A Deficiency of Nutrition Education in Medical Training, The American Journal of Medicine. Vol. 127, I-9, PP 804-806.
[iv] Eisenberg D, and Burgess J (2013). Nutrition Education in the Era of Global Obesity and Diabetes: Thinking Outside the Box. Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Vol 90-I:7 pp 854-860.
[v] Adams K, Kohlmeier M, and Seisel S (2010). Nutrition Education in the U.S. Medical Schools Latest Update of a National Survey. Acad Med. Doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181eab71b.
[vi] Cluss P, Ewing L, King W, Reis E, Dodd J, and Penner B (2013). Nutrition Knowledge of Low-Income Parents of Obese Children. Society of Behavioral Medicine. Doi: 10.1007/s13142-013-0203-6.
[vii] Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) (2015). Why Low Income and Food Insecure People are Vulnerable to Obesity.
[viii] Department of Defense (2013). Dietary Supplements: Policy, Science and the DoD. Health.mil.