Why Is Nutrition Education Not Something Typically Found in Medical Schools? (And Why It’s Critical)

A Q&A with Gail Cresci, PhD, RD

Softball, tennis and running were a few of the sports that Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, enjoyed while growing up.“I found proper nutrition assisted with optimal performance,” she adds, “even though coaches were not talking much about nutrition.”

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That fascination with how the body works and the importance of nutrition propelled Dr. Cresci to her career as a gastroenterology and nutrition researcher in the Pediatric and Lerner Research institutes. She also serves as the Director of Nutrition Research within the Center for Human Nutrition in the Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute.

Consult QD sat down with Dr. Cresci to learn more about her passion for nutrition education and prevention vs. treatments:

Q: You also serve as the Nutrition Thread Leader for our Lerner College of Medicine curriculum. Why is it important to bring nutrition to the medical school curriculum?

A: Nutrition is finally being recognized as a means to prevent and treat disease yet most physicians are not well versed in the power of nutrition to improve patient wellness. They may agree nutrition is important, but they do not know why or how to talk to their patients about it.

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I have been educating physicians about nutrition for more than 25 years. Providing future physicians with the knowledge and skills to improve patient health and well-being is key to positively tackle the increasing incidence of many chronic health problems such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease.

Q: Why is nutrition education not something typically found in medical schools?

A: Time in the curriculum is always an issue as medical students have so much content to learn. Additionally, curriculum leaders haven’t always recognized the importance of nutrition. What may limit this is the “wishy-washy” nature of much of the nutrition information available. Studies can be conflicting, but much of this is because nutrition studies cannot be designed and expected to perform as pharmaceutical studies. Many nutritional interventions need years, if not generations, to follow the end results of the interventions. Most physicians are not trained to think this way and therefore when a study shows conflicting or no short-term benefit on a particular intervention, they lose confidence in the intervention.

Q: What keeps you excited about the future of healthcare?

A: The focus has moved to prevention rather than treatments. And that nutrition is finally beginning to be recognized as a way to prevent disease and keep people healthy.

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Q: How do you decompress from work? 

A: I really enjoy working out. I ride my bike to work when roads are not icy and temperatures are above 35. I enjoy training for triathlon events and doing yoga. I also meditate.

Q: Ways you keep your energy high during a long workday?

A: I eat small amounts. I pack my lunch daily with fresh fruits, vegetables and a protein source such as plain Greek yogurt and nuts. I find if I eat a large heavy meal I get sluggish and cannot optimally perform. I drink water frequently throughout the day.

I take breaks to go for a walk or do some squats, planks or yoga moves in my office to keep my blood and mind flowing.