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As COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights Critical Importance Of Nutrition, BP Adams Releases a Report With Harvard Law School’s Food Law And Policy Clinic About Opportunities To Advance Nutrition Education For Physicians and Health Professionals

Today, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic released a report outlining policy opportunities in New York to advance nutrition education for physicians and health professionals. In the United States, poor diet is the most significant risk factor for premature death and disability. Although many people report that they think physicians are a trusted source of information on the relationship between diet and health, in actuality most physicians receive little to no formal education on nutrition. The ​report details several ways lawmakers can work with medical schools and similar institutions throughout the state to strengthen nutrition education requirements and ensure people in the health care professions are equipped with knowledge to better serve their patients. Armed with this knowledge, physicians will be able to include basic nutrition assessments during patient exams, respond more confidently to patient questions about food and diet, and be equipped to make necessary referrals for their patients.

Our office is currently in touch with various elected officials and advocates to discuss a legislative framework that would empower New Yorkers to lead healthier lifestyles. By working alongside medical schools and other partners on this issue, we hope to achieve the best possible health outcomes for our constituents.

Recognizing the ability of an optimal diet to prevent and treat many chronic diseases, the SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University created the Committee on Plant-based Health and Nutrition, a multidisciplinary effort by the College of Medicine, School of Public Health, and the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office.  Within the College of Medicine, students initiated the DINE Club (Downstate Initiative on Nutrition Empowerment) and a Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group (LMIG), the latter being the only official LMIG in the New York metropolitan region under the auspices of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.  Together, these initiatives will help the population of Central Brooklyn, which suffers from one of the highest rates of diet-related illnesses in the entire city, prevent, treat, and potentially reverse, conditions that include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a tragic reminder that when our most trusted health professionals are not informed on the connection between nutrition and health, we all suffer. These crises existed long before the arrival of coronavirus to New York, but the fact that some of the leading co-morbidities were diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes only underscores the urgency of filling this knowledge gap and empowering people to heal themselves through their diets. I look forward to implementing initiatives and policies that better the education of medical workers and the health of New Yorkers,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“Our health care system must acknowledge the role that food plays in chronic illness prevention and treatment, and to achieve that goal, we need to educate our doctors,” said Professor Emily Broad Leib of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. “Fortunately, as highlighted in our report, there are several policy opportunities to systematically improve nutrition education for physicians and health care providers, from providing financial or recognition incentives to medical schools to offer nutrition education programs, to creating a state office that would provide technical assistance for such programs, to specifying required courses in food and nutrition for physician licensure. We commend Brooklyn Borough President Adams for working to identify and advance the right policy solutions for New York.”

 “We are in complete agreement with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic’s conclusions on nutrition’s critical role in chronic disease and the need for physician and health professional education in dietary lifestyle,” said ACLM President Dexter Shurney, MD, MBA, MPH, FACLM, DipABLM. “The pandemic has indeed highlighted that diet-related disease has made populations already experiencing health disparities even more vulnerable. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine exists to fill the gaping void in medical education for evidence-based Lifestyle Medicine therapies of predominantly whole food plant-based diet, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances and positive social connection. We applaud and look forward to supporting the efforts of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and Brooklyn Borough President Adams to provide this critical training to help restore health.”

“This report contributes to the growing list of resources aimed at reducing the impact of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity through plant-based diet polices. This, together with the founding of the Committee on Plant-based Health and Nutrition, marks a substantial step forward for integrating diet concepts and strategies like these into public health practice” says Craig Willingham, Deputy Director, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute.

“A nutrition prescription from a doctor is an opportunity to transform a patient’s serious illness to a success story. While seventy-three percent of physicians feel that patient visits should include nutrition guidance, only 15 percent feel “totally prepared” to offer it. It’s essential that we train and support clinicians in nutrition counseling: general nutrition throughout the lifecycle, nutrition assessment, the role of nutrition in disease prevention, management, and treatment are the basics our clinicians need to practice effectively,” says Physicians Committee President, Neal Barnard, MD.

“Given that poor diet is the most significant risk factor for premature death and that food insecurity is dramatically increasing in the United States there has never been a more important moment to advance nutrition and food education for physicians and health professionals. It is imperative to create opportunities to educate health care providers about proper nutrition and food for their patients and the planet, especially those in under-resourced communities that are most affected by COVID-19 and climate change,” says Executive Director of Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, Charles Platkin, Ph.D., JD, MPH.

The link to the report is available here.

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