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New Effort Launched to Train Health Professionals in Nutrition and Physical Activity

Monday, March 21, 2016

Washington, D.C. – Today, two in three Americans are overweight or have obesity. Yet only one in eight visits with a doctor involves counseling on the benefits of a healthy diet. And only 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science. That’s why the Bipartisan Policy Center, American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Alliance for a Healthier Generation (the Alliance), and Institute of Medicine (IOM) are joining together in a new national effort to ensure medical students, physicians, nurses, and other health professionals are taught about how to initiate discussions with patients that help prevent or treat obesity.

This multi-year project grew out of BPC’s report, Teaching Nutrition and Physical Activity in Medical School: Training Doctors for Prevention-Oriented Care, which was released in 2014 with ACSM and the Alliance. The report shows that current training for health professionals in nutrition and exercise is inadequate to cope with the nation’s obesity epidemic and offers recommendations on how to remedy that deficit. It also points out that more than 75 percent of physicians feel they have received inadequate training to counsel their patients on diet and exercise.

The new effort will focus on implementing three policy recommendations for change: 1) developing and implementing core competencies to address, treat, and prevent obesity across health professions; 2) improving reimbursement policy to support health services that target lifestyle factors such as nutrition and physical activity; and 3) recognizing and rewarding innovation to drive continued funding and administrative support for reform efforts already underway.

“Health care professionals are on the front lines of the battle against obesity and metabolic disease,” said former Secretary of Agriculture and Co-chair of BPC’s Prevention Initiative Dan Glickman. “They are uniquely positioned to prompt change among individuals, families, and society as a whole. That’s why we need to ensure that they have the tools to help their patients practice healthy lifestyles.”

“Few training programs for health professionals teach providers how to begin conversations about obesity and how to engage people with obesity in care,” said Dr. William Dietz, consultant to the IOM Roundtable on Obesity Solutions. “The grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides us with the support necessary to improve care by developing core competencies for the many different types of providers engaged in the prevention and treatment of obesity.”

“The health care marketplace needs to place greater value on preventive care,” said Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President of the American College of Sports Medicine Jim Whitehead. “Doing so will provide medical schools with the incentive to train their students accordingly. And it will give medical professionals the leverage they need to address healthy lifestyles with their patients.”

“We’ve seen firsthand the value of expanding reimbursement for evidence-based preventive services through our Healthier Generation Benefit,” said Dr. Howell Wechsler, chief executive Officer of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “It’s critical that we bring evidence-based preventive services to the forefront of medical education reform.”

The project is funded by a multi-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Learn more about BPC’s work on training health professionals.

KEYWORDS: DAN GLICKMAN, INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE