What’s Missing in Medical School?

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the care of and prevention of disease.”

-Thomas Edison

We look to our doctors as authorities on health and nutrition. And yet, one of the most common questions readers ask is, “Why doesn’t my doctor know about this connection between diet and disease?” It is not our doctor’s fault. The sad truth is there is a widespread lack of nutritional education in medical schools around the world.

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Think about this: in the 1950’s doctors promoted cigarettes as a healthy activity and even a useful mechanism with which to open our lungs. Today this “good health” advice seems ridiculous. Consider this: the notorious tobacco industry only generated $400 billion in health care costs over the course of 5 decades. Consuming animal foods generates over $600 billion in health care costs every 2 years.

For decades our doctors have only been relegated about 15 hours of nutritional education. The course however does not cover the actual connection between diet and disease. And yet, as our consumption of animal foods has continued to rise, so has our rate of disease skyrocketed. Today 70% of deaths in the US are attributed to chronic diseases. These diseases were almost unheard of a mere 100 years ago. The leading chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes chronic conditions used to be confined to an aging population- evidenced by their definition as “degenerative” chronic disease. Yet now we are seeing them in an increasing number of school-age children. This generation of children has the highest rates of health problems from obesity to diabetes, attention deficit disorders, and autism. One in 3 children are obese and this is the first generation of children that will have shorter life spans than their parents.

Over time we have prided our state of the art medical facilities and our healthcare approach has shifted towards a disease-centered rather than looking to prevention. Our current approach of pills, procedures, surgery, and technology pays the companies but it is costing us our health. One of the main issues is that there is little money in prevention but billions of dollars in pharmaceuticals. Dr. Loomis in Rethink Food aptly captures this problem when he states:

 “I have come to realize how our current health-care system is part of the problem and is contributing to the epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases we are seeing in today’s society. Almost all of the chronic diseases I was trained to treat are directly or indirectly, related to living a lifestyle in dissonance with the one we are designed to lead. Yet we define the optimal treatment of diseases as reaching a certain number with prescription medication(s), and then we are satisfied that we have done a good job. In reality, we are far from optimal treatment, as this approach is just putting a band-aid on the symptoms rather than addressing the true cause of the problem.” 

Optimistically, the doctors in Rethink Food acknowledge our medical education system needs to change. Today doctors, not just in the United States but from around the world, are confirming that our compounding health care problems and escalating healthcare costs are primarily linked to our consumption of meat and dairy products.  This shift is encouraging. Over time, it is our hope that we will look at animal-based foods the same way we view cigarettes, as a danger for our health. Until then its up to us to spread the message that the answers to our leading health woes are not at the bottom of a pill bottle, but on the end of our fork.