Brief, effective experience to increase first-year medical students' nutrition awareness

Mary Thoesen Coleman, LSU Health Sciences Center - New Orleans
Paula Rhode Brantley, LSU Health Sciences Center - New Orleans
Pamela Markiewicz Wiseman, LSU Health Sciences Center - New Orleans
Robin English, LSU Health Sciences Center - New Orleans
Lauri O. Byerley, LSU Health Sciences Center - New Orleans


Background: Wellness is an important concept for medical students to learn, both for their own health and for their patients. Since nutrition is an essential part of one’s wellness that can positively or negatively impact one’s health, it is important for medical students to learn approaches to nutritional wellness. Studies have shown that physicians’ nutrition attitudes and clinical practices are positively correlated with their dietary practices. Objective: Here, we describe a brief nutrition-based education experience for first-year students offered at the start of the medical school curriculum that is designed to increase their nutrition awareness. Design: The nutrition experience involved five components: 1) having students complete three 24-hour food recalls; 2) comparing their recalls to nutrient standards; 3) emphasizing strategies that include simple, nutritionally sound food choices and preparation; 4) surveying students on their implementation of personal healthy nutritional strategies; and 5) requesting future recommendations for modifying the educational experience. Results: Most students’ diets did not meet the recommended dietary levels for several nutrients, and these deficiencies corresponded to specific food group inadequacies. Forty percent of the students responded to a three-month follow-up survey. Of these students, 46% implemented one of the presented strategies to improve their food intake. Most changes included the addition or deletion of a particular food. Seventy-three percent recommended repeating the program in the future. Conclusions: We demonstrate that a brief 2.5-hour nutrition wellness experience can increase nutrition awareness and promote dietary change in incoming medical students. Many felt that the experience was valuable and recommended offering a similar experience to future classes.