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Study: Doctors admit not knowing much about nutrition, yet most agree it’s important

August 14th, 2008

It must happen thousands of times every day. A person is considering using a nutritional supplement or taking a nutritional approach to a health problem. Very often the reason they are doing so in the first place is to avoid a costly doctor visit or because they don’t want to use prescription drugs or surgical approaches. But when they raise the most important questions, is this appropriate for me, can I take this with my medications, how well will this work, how long should I take it, they are told to “check with your doctor”.

So they check with the family doctor, who, more often than not, is not familiar enough, informed enough or open-minded enough to provide a good answer. And with that, the person is back to Square One.

A study of 114 resident intern physicians published earlier this year examined their nutritional knowledge and proficiency, as well as their attitudes toward clinical nutrition using a carefully-designed survey.

Only about half even completed the survey (54%).

Of those who did, more than 3 out of 4 (77%) agreed that a nutritional assessment is important enough to be a part of primary care visits.

When was the last time your doctor performed a nutritional assessment during your primary care visit?

Almost all the respondents, 94%, believed it was the obligation of a physician to discuss nutrition with their patients.

When was the last time your doctor discussed nutrition with you?

Yet only about 1 in 7 (14%) felt they “were adequately trained to provide nutrition counseling.” And the more nutritional education a doctor had, the more negative their view of physician “self-efficacy” with respect to nutrition.

These results confirm what many people already believed to be true with respect to MD’s and nutrition.

Despite this, people are still routinely told to “check with their doctor” when all but the simplest issues arise around health, nutrition and medications. A doctor inadequately trained in nutrition or unfamiliar with what nutritional issue his patient is considering really has only two choices in the limited time framework of an office visit. He or she can either research the matter on their own time and follow up with the patient at some future point, for which they will not be paid, or, dismiss the matter entirely, which is much easier: “You know, I’m not really familiar with (herb, supplement, nutritional approach) and whether that works for high blood pressure or whether it can be used with this beta-blocker. I can’t vouch for it’s safety so you better not use it. Here’s a prescription be sure to review the insert and review the side-effects…..

That’s a shame, because there is without question a major role for nutrition to play in the prevention and treatment of disease, and it’s likely that many patients are suffering and perhaps dying as an indirect result of this informational and institutional gap.

If doctors and medical establishment aren’t going to pick up the nutritional ball despite acknowledging its importance, something that doesn’t seem likely, then it is past time to create a “place at the table” for Naturopaths or other skilled nutrition professionals instead of marginalizing them as part of a catch-all “Alternative Medicine” establishment.

Link to abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18689561

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