NUTRITION
March 20, 2013

Top Chef, Doctor Edition

Tom Colicchio won't be operating any time soon, but he and other top chefs can teach doctors and help patients.

Top Chef Doctor may not be on the schedule for next season, but it was on the schedule at the Harvard School of Public Health recently. The school teamed up with The Culinary Institute of America and paired doctors with chefs, not to produce the next Tom Colicchio or Eric Ripert, but to fight obesity and chronic diseases.

The program was part of the doctors' continuing medical education and included presentations by a variety of food, nutrition, and lifestyle experts — registered dietitians, chefs, exercise physiologists, and psychologists. Doctors attended cooking demonstrations, hands-on cooking classes, and lectures on nutrition and nutritional epidemiology.

This pilot study suggests that health care professionals who learn to eat more thoughtfully and healthfully are apt to counsel their patients to do the same. Surely, that would be an improved health care delivery model for all.

Before the conference began, 219 anonymous healthcare professionals, who had registered to participate, completed a survey about their own nutrition-related behaviors. Twelve weeks later, after attending the conference, they were surveyed again. The results were both positive and promising.

In a research letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, the authors of the survey noted that they had noticed that health professionals who practice healthy behaviors, like being active, eating less processed food, and avoiding saturated fats, are more likely to encourage their patients to engage in healthier behaviors, too. So, they reasoned, if doctors and other healthcare professionals learned more about how to cook healthfully, they would be more likely — and better able — to counsel their patients to do the same.

Before the conference began, 58% of the registrants reported cooking their meals. This increased to 74% after attending the conference. They also reported they had a greater awareness of their personal calorie intake. The healthcare professionals' intake of whole grains, nuts, and vegetables increased. More importantly, 41% of the doctors said they felt better about their ability to advise overweight or obese patients successfully, and reported their greater confidence in their ability to assess a patient’s nutritional status.

"In medical training, there is an often-quoted phrase," said Dr. David Eisenberg one of the authors of the study in a statement, "'See one. Do one. Teach one.' That's often how we learn skills. How about: 'See one. Taste one. Cook (or make) one. Teach one'? This pilot study suggests that health care professionals who learn to eat more thoughtfully and healthfully are apt to counsel their patients to do the same. Surely, that would be an improved health care delivery model for all."

The researchers acknowledge that their study was limited in many ways, and there has been no further study on the impact of the participants’ interaction with patients. However, few would doubt the value of making doctors more aware of good nutrition and giving them a few extra tools and confidence when it comes to counseling their patients about their eating habits.

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