August 2021

Nutrition Knowledge Feeds Med Students' Confidence

August 9, 2021    |  

Medical school students who took a three-hour culinary medicine training course reported feeling more confident in their nutritional knowledge and their abilities to counsel patients on healthy eating habits, according to a new study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). The study involved 119 UMSOM medical students who participated in a class that includes a nutrition lecture and cooking lessons in a demonstration kitchen at the Institute for Integrative Health, a nonprofit organization based in Baltimore. Culinary medicine training is required as part of the new Renaissance Curriculum instituted last year at UMSOM. The study was published last month in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

To conduct the study, UMSOM researchers asked first-year medical students participating in a core curriculum culinary medicine course to complete a survey before and after taking the three-hour training. They found students were more than twice as likely to report being prepared for providing healthy eating recommendations to patients after taking the class, as compared to before taking the class.

Christopher D'Adamo, PhD

Christopher D'Adamo, PhD

“A robust two-thirds of medical school students felt prepared or very prepared to interact with patients to discuss healthy eating after taking this one class. This suggests that culinary medicine training in medical school is feasible, well-accepted, and associated with improvements in nutritional knowledge,” said study lead author Christopher D’Adamo, PhD, assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at UMSOM and director of the Center for Integrative Medicine.

Guiding patients to pursue healthier eating habits can help prevent obesity as well as diseases that frequently result from poor diets such as heart disease, strokes, and cancer, he added.

The study found that 12 percent of students reported feeling “very prepared” for these interactions after taking the class, compared to 5 percent of those who had not yet taken the class; an additional 55 percent felt “prepared” after the class, compared to 34 percent before the class.

It also found that none of the students reported feeling “not at all knowledgeable” about nutrition after the course, compared with nearly 5 percent who felt that way before taking the class. Students also reported that the class gave them practical tools for providing advice to their patients, including how to address barriers to healthy eating such as living in a low-income area where fresh produce can be scarce.

Healthy eating and other self-care modalities also can benefit the medical school students themselves: Studies suggest self-care helps reduce stress among medical students and reduces symptoms of depression, burnout, and other mental health challenges associated with the demanding coursework.

“The strategies for overcoming healthy eating barriers that were presented in our course — including time, taste, cravings, and cost challenges — are also applicable to medical students. They reported these strategies were relevant to their own lives,” D’Adamo said.

Study co-authors included UMSOM’s Norman Retener, MD, assistant professor of medicine; Bernadette Siaton, MD, assistant professor of medicine; and Brian Berman, MD, professor emeritus of family and community medicine.

“This study provides scientific evidence to support important aspects of the new curriculum that we instituted last year in our medical school,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, executive vice president for medical affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean, UMSOM. "Our coursework focuses on actualizing the ‘Renaissance Physician.’ This kind of physician serves as an important guide for patients who are eager to feed themselves and their families with meals that are nutritious, delicious, and affordable.”