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New medical school course emphasizes nutrition, its impact on health care

Medical student Natalie Antosh (photo by Jim Howe) Medical student Natalie Antosh, in an interview with Upstate's podcast and radio program "HealthLink on Air." (photo by Jim Howe)

A new elective at Upstate Medical University teaches medical students about how food affects health.

Fourth-year medical student Natalie Antosh worked with faculty members — Beth Nelsen, MD, Barbara Feuerstein, MD, and Susan Levinsohn, MD, all from Upstate, plus Kay Stearns Bruening, PhD, from Syracuse University — to create the course, called “Food As Medicine,” which was first offered in the fall of 2019.

She says as she encountered patients during her training, she heard questions about how to lower cholesterol and what to eat to lose weight. “I realized I didn’t have the answers.” So she spoke to classmates and approached the medical school’s curriculum office.

(Hear Natalie Antosh explain how a medical school course about food relates to issues of food insecurity, the role of dietitians and overall health in a podcast for Upstate's "HealthLink on Air.")

The resulting course covers nutrition and its impact on multiple diseases, the role of dietitians, mindful eating, social factors that affect what people eat, and more. One of the classes makes use of the teaching kitchen at SU. Students also spend time in a soup kitchen or food bank.

“A lot of patients come to their doctor seeking nutrition information. They are looking for how they can lose weight effectively, how they can manage their high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol with diet modification,” Antosh says. “I think it’s really important for doctors to know this information.

(Related story: Rural medical students learn about "culinary medicine.")

Not many medical schools require separate nutrition courses. A growing number of schools are exploring creative ways to integrate nutrition into the curricula, according to Lisa Howley, PhD, a senior director at the American Association of Medical Colleges.

Upstate Health magazine winter 2020 issue coverThis article is from the winter 2020 issue of Upstate Health magazine.