What the health statistics show -- no matter if they come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association or the Milken Institute for Public Health -- is beyond disturbing.
The American diet is killing us.
So goes the healthcare world that new doctors from the UNLV School of Medicine and other medical schools will enter. The numbers show a poor diet is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S., causing more than 500,000 deaths yearly. Not consuming the proper amount of 10 dietary factors -- fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, whole grains, unprocessed red meats, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, polyunsaturated fats, seafood omega-fats and sodium -- is estimated to cause around 1000 deaths daily from diabetes, stroke and heart disease alone.
Preliminary analysis also shows that the manifestations of a poor diet can heighten the risk of death from COVID-19.
In an opinion piece published last year in the New York Times -- “Our Food is Killing Too Many of Us” -- Dr. Darius Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and Dan Glickman, a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, pointed out that 75 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, many of whom suffer direct health consequences. Obesity’s total economic costs, including lost productivity, is estimated at $1.72 trillion a year, nearly 10 percent of gross domestic product. Because many young Americans are obese, recruiters face difficult challenges staffing our all-volunteer military.
“What is making us so sick, and how can we reverse this so we need less healthcare?” the authors wrote. “The answer is staring us in the face, on average, three times a day: Our food.”
It is against this unappetizing backdrop -- led by non-nutritious processed foods -- that the UNLV School of Medicine and 55 other academic medical centers across the country are including a Health meets Food curriculum in their training of physicians and other medical providers. Considered the most comprehensive culinary medicine curriculum for physicians and allied health professionals, the program leads the way in how medical professionals are trained so they can have more meaningful conversations with their patients about food and health.
Dr. Anne Weisman, the medical school’s director of wellness and integrative medicine, is overseeing the program that gets underway on Aug. 21 and continues for nine weeks for 60 first year students. In September, second year students begin. On Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. Dr. Michael Greger, author of the New York Times Best-Sellier “How Not to Die,” will speak virtually to medical students on the importance of nutrition. He will do a live Q&A with students following his presentation.
“Everything we put into our mouths when we eat, can either improve or detract from our health,” Weisman notes. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she says students will attend Health meets Food classes virtually in their own home kitchens through Zoom. Part of the first session will have students making tacos with healthy ingredients, including whole grain tortillas, vegetables and black beans, a departure from the traditional tacos in the U.S. that are high in calories, fat and sodium -- where store-bought seasoning and flour tortillas contribute to health concerns.
“Over time we can significantly change the health of our community,” Weisman says.