Time is now for “food as medicine” health care approach, urges ACLM exec
12 Mar 2021 --- A shift toward food as medicine could help address a host of chronic diseases that are on an upward trend. This is according to Susan Benigas, the executive director of The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM).
She speaks to NutritionInsight following the launch of ACLM’s first “food as medicine” course, which aims to educate medical professionals about more options for preventing, treating and even reversing certain lifestyle-related chronic diseases.
“We have a population that is overfed, undernourished, fiber-deficient, nutrient-starved, overweight and bearing the burden of chronic disease. It’s estimated that over 60 percent of all US adults are struggling with at least one chronic disease, with over 40 percent having two or more,” she explains.
“We cannot sit by and allow this to continue when we know that it’s what people are – and are not – eating that’s the leading cause of disease and death,” Benigas emphasizes.
A COVID-19 wake-up call
While there is a growing awareness of food as medicine, there is still significant marketplace confusion around food and nutrition.
Benigas sees an “alarming” lack of food and nutrition literacy among the public, with misconceptions like the price of healthy eating proliferating.
“COVID-19 shone a bright light on the urgent need to address underlying health conditions that have exacerbated the virus’s most harmful effects. These underlying conditions are – by and large – lifestyle-related chronic diseases,” she explains.
In July, the UK Department of Health and Social Care revealed a raft of measures as part of its anti-obesity strategy to tackle COVID-19.
“We’ve also had a major wake-up call in recognizing the disproportionate impact of these conditions on our underserved, often minority, populations,” Benigas emphasizes.
Therefore, she argues that now is the time for a lifestyle medicine-first approach to healthcare. For the younger population, the focus may be more rooted in prevention. For an older population, the need may be concerning treatment and, even, the reversal of an already existing disease.
Filling in professional knowledge gaps
In its 2019 Global Burden of Disease report, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation identified diet as a leading cause of disease and death.
However, Benigas points out that most physicians and medical professionals receive few hours of clinical nutrition education throughout their formal training.
According to ACLM, the limited nutrition education customarily offered in medical and health professional programs is often didactic and focused on the biochemistry of nutrients and health consequences of deficiency states.
This content is of limited use in a clinical setting where the majority of the population faces over-nutrition due to high intake of ultra-processed, calorie-dense, high saturated fat-laden foods, ACLM argues.
The outcome goal of clinicians trained in lifestyle medicine is health restoration, not disease management. Benigas says that this is possible only through a first treatment approach that’s focused on identifying and eradicating the root cause of disease whenever possible.
Enabling prevention and longevity
The CME- and CE-accredited food as medicine course aims to educate and equip clinicians with knowledge of dietary patterns that can address diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. The course also prepares them to implement food as medicine at a practical level in patient care.
The first installment of the online course is titled “Nutrition for Prevention and Longevity.” It will:
- Review the current challenges in nutrition research and disseminating accurate nutrition information to the public.
- Explain national and global nutrition recommendations and basic nutrition principles.
- Distinguish differences between health-promoting and health-harming foods.
- Describe the dietary pattern recommended by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine for disease prevention, treatment and reversal.
- Apply the concept of the dietary spectrum when making nutrition recommendations.
- Apply nutrition therapy scope of practice.
- Review the scientific evidence of popular diets.
The course will also include nutrition considerations for various lifecycle stages and special populations, and pharmaceutical implications in food-as-medicine practice.
ACLM is targeting a variety of clinicians with an interest in food as medicine: physicians, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, other allied health professionals working with chronic disease prevention or treatment, certified health coaches and clinicians in training.
Previous ACLM courses have targeted areas including the foundations of lifestyle medicine, reversing Type 2 diabetes and physical well-being.
Food as medicine has been a hot industry topic in recent years. In September, the US National Institutes of Health awarded a US$2.9 million grant for “food as medicine” research that focuses on using medically tailored meal delivery as an effective health care intervention for diabetes.
In December, Naturex announced it would supply US-based Upgraid with clinical science to back its expanding portfolio of natural “food as medicine” supplements.
Meanwhile, NPD in this space includes Healright’s bars and Muniq’s balanced nutritional shakes.
By Katherine Durrell
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