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McGovern nudges medical schools to invest in nutrition education

Rules chairman sees House adopting related sense of the Congress resolution

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern warns that if there is no discernible change in medical school curriculums, he will pursue stronger legislation to deliver “a kick in the ass.”
House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern warns that if there is no discernible change in medical school curriculums, he will pursue stronger legislation to deliver “a kick in the ass.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Medical schools should beef up curriculums to include robust nutrition education to give physicians the tools to combat diet-related conditions that cost the federal government billions of dollars each year to treat, according to House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern.

The Massachusetts Democrat predicted during an online news conference Wednesday that the House will overwhelmingly adopt a sense of the Congress resolution that calls on medical schools, graduate medical programs and health professional training programs to expand nutrition education.

McGovern equated the resolution to a legislative nudge and reminder to medical and health educators that Medicare and Medicaid are major federal funding sources for graduate medical education, including residency and fellowship programs. The two health care programs provide a combined estimated $14 billion a year in funding.

He warned that if there is no discernible change in curriculums, he will pursue stronger legislation to deliver “a kick in the ass.”

The resolution by McGovern and Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, a physician and Rules Committee member, would set a goal of preparing physicians and other health professionals to consider food and good nutrition as ways to prevent or treat chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

The resolution would urge federal agencies to ensure that funding “goes to programs that incorporate substantive training in nutrition and diet sufficient for physicians and health professionals to meaningfully incorporate nutrition interventions and dietary referrals into medical practice.”

More than 40 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese and 10 percent of the country has Type 2 diabetes, McGovern said. Incidents of obesity and diabetes are projected to increase in the coming years. Some studies show people who are obese run a higher risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19 if they become ill.

The resolution is McGovern’s latest effort to focus congressional attention on the role food and good nutrition can play in improving the nation’s health. As Rules chairman, he has held forums on hunger, food as medicine, and nutrition. He and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., have bipartisan bills in their respective chambers that would authorize a White House summit on hunger, nutrition and health.

Although the White House has not publicly responded, McGovern said he expects the summit to occur in 2022.  

He said the necessity to increase nutrition education beyond the average 19 hours most medical schools provide over four years led to him teaming up with Burgess.

“We can barely agree on what to have for lunch, but we agree that this should be a priority,” McGovern said.  “We want action.”

At the news briefing, several members of the Nutrition Education Working Group that includes experts in nutrition science, education and food policy said the limited focus on nutrition often leaves medical students and physicians feeling inadequately prepared.

“So to my mind, it doesn’t make sense to invest federal money and training of physicians who are then not able to prevent or address the most costly illnesses we face,” said Emily M. Broad Leib, faculty director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Leib said the resolution is a prod that “does not mandate any changes to health care training. It really raises awareness and makes the statement that the lack of food and nutrition knowledge among health professionals is a matter of national concern.” 

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