This piece it taken from the Autumn 2018 issue of ARCADIA magazine. The edition is available in over 70 retail outlets worldwide and you can also order your copy online. Thank you so much to ARCADIA for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this issue!
Dr. Hazel Wallace, the brains and beauty behind The Food Medic, an educational platform filled with recipes, nutrition, and medicine articles, is not only a junior doctor, she is also a qualified personal trainer and is currently pursuing a masters in Clinical Nutrition and Public Health Nutrition at University College London. As if her academic achievements were not enough, Hazel is also an author of two best-selling books, The Food Medic and The Food Medic For Life, as well as creator of top-ten charting The Food Medic podcast. Here, Hazel answers the question, should your doctor be asking you what you ate for breakfast?
“Hello, Mrs. Brown. Please come in and take a seat. Now tell me, what did you have for breakfast today?” Imagine if that was how your GP started your consultation. You would probably be a little shocked and feel that it is a bit irrelevant, personal, or simply nosey? The reality is, doctors should be asking about diet. The General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK outlines that qualifying medical students must understand the role of diet in health promotion and diseases prevention. However, most medical schools in the US and Europe receive on average at about 20-25 hours of teaching nutrition throughout their training.
Considering that poor diet is arguably one of the biggest threats to our health, related to a range of health problems including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, it ought to be on the top of the agenda for all medical schools. Despite this, the majority of doctors don’t feel confident, or well equipped, to offer advice on nutrition and physical activity.
Things need to change, and my vision is that this generation of doctors will think to ask about diet, sleep, stress, and exercise in all consultations, just like we ask about drug history, smoking status, and alcohol consumption.
It may sound extremely ambitious with the time constraints we work under here in the UK, but with the current skyrocketing upward trend of chronic disease, we need to do something. Non-communicable diseases,
or chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading killers worldwide – killing 40 million people each year, equivalent to 70% of all deaths globally. The figures are staggering, and our current healthcare structure is not well equipped to not only deal with the volume of patients but also to deliver
the type of care required.
The majority of our workload in the NHS (and Healthcare systems across the world) is due to conditions that can be somewhat attributed to our lifestyles – type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s… the list goes on. In order to prevent, manage, and in some cases reverse, these conditions, we need to be equipped with the right education and guidelines to advise our patients.
It’s not acceptable to simply half-heartedly refer to the eat-well plate or prescribe “lose weight” on our prescription pads without any justification or support, nor can we resort to pills or surgery as our only way out.
Do not get me wrong, I am so grateful for the advances in modern medicine, and I prescribe medication daily in my practice. If it weren’t for vaccinations and antibiotics most of us would be dying from relatively trivial infectious diseases such as urinary tract and chest infections. The advances in conventional medicine are incredible, often as if out of a sci-fi movie – we can re-attach limbs, restore sight to the blind, and perform complex surgeries with robots!
I don’t think there is a quick solution, but I do think we need to shift our mindset from sick-care to health-care. We can’t simply prescribe a pill for every ill, and we can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend food doesn’t matter to our health. We may not always have a cure, but we have a good shot at prevention if we take the right steps now.
For things to change, I believe it is absolutely essential that medical students and doctors receive at least a foundation training in nutrition. Of course, we have qualified experts in nutrition, and if we have access to them, we should 100% be using them. However not all doctors have easy access to a dietician or a registered nutritionist, and
therefore having a basic understanding of nutrition to offer advice to patients in the early stages of disease progression could ultimately save thousands of lives.
The good news is the tide is turning, and as a doctor working with the NHS and the media, I see a demand for the delivery of advice on nutrition from both patients and doctors alike. So don’t be surprised if the next time you go for a checkup and your doctor seems unusually keen to find out what you had for breakfast.