Today, Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) released an issue brief outlining a menu of policy opportunities to systematically improve nutrition education for doctors and health professionals in Massachusetts. Food plays a key role in shaping health outcomes; diet-affected diseases — heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes, among others — are the leading causes of death in the United States. However, health care providers in Massachusetts rarely receive formal education or training on nutrition. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for health care providers to support patients’ nutrition needs is further underscored as rates of food insecurity soar and those with both COVID-19 and underlying, diet-affected diseases are at an increased risk of severe illness or death.
Today’s issue brief lists policy solutions to “ensure that physicians trained and practicing in Massachusetts are able to prevent, address, and treat diseases that have a link to diet.” FLPC’s recommendations range from increasing financial or recognition incentives for medical schools offering nutrition programs, to establishing a state office that can provide technical assistance on nutrition programs for health care professionals, to establishing licensure requirements. The opportunities outlined in the issue brief are tailored to Massachusetts, but they build on national recommendations FLPC made in their 2019 report, Doctoring Our Diet.
“We know that diet is often a root cause of poor health outcomes, but our trusted health care professionals are not trained to help,” said Emily Broad Leib, Faculty Director of FLPC and Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “Massachusetts has a lot of reasons to improve provider nutrition education. For starters, the state’s population is burdened by diet-affected diseases despite the availability of several state-based health and food system innovations. As Massachusetts continues increasing access to nutrition interventions to improve individual and public health, we need our health care providers onboard and able to identify their patients’ food-related needs.”