Study reviews culinary medicine programs at medical schools

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A recent review of culinary medicine programs at medical schools concluded that culinary courses generally improved student wellness and knowledge of nutrition, however, researchers observed a lack of standardized practices.

The review was published in the journal, Academic Medicine, and led by Jaclyn Albin, MD, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics, and head of the culinary medicine program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. According to Albin, culinary medicine programs combine nutrition education with cooking lessons to give health professionals practical skills to help patients improve their diets.

“This work is the very first scoping review of medical school-based Culinary Medicine programs in the U.S.,” Albin said in a statement. “We anticipate this to be a pivotal resource for the many medical schools seeking to launch programs and needing a collated literature base as well as information about funding, assessment strategies, and lessons learned.”

Albin and a team of researchers conducted a scoping review of the literature on culinary medicine programs for medical students, analyzing studies published between January 1, 2012, and October 15, 2021, from multiple databases. Researchers identified 251 studies, and after applying their inclusion data, which required studies focused on factors such as hands-on cooking components, curricular descriptions, and application to patient care, 12 studies met the criteria.

After analyzing the literature, researchers found that culinary medicine programs varied significantly in course length, number of participants, learner level, structure, and instructor background. However, all programs consistently improved students’ nutrition knowledge and attitude around food and nutrition, according to the review. Funding for the programs came from philanthropic or academic sources, though many struggled to find adequate finacial support. The study identified 34 medical school programs offering culinary medicine courses.

The authors concluded that the benefits of culinary medicine are clear and particularly useful as diet-related health problems are on the rise. In addition, they said as more programs emerge, there is a need for standardized practices and curriculum, as well as assessment strategies for these courses to ensure optimal population health impact.

“Food is the top risk factor for early death in the U.S., and culinary medicine could transform the problem into the solution,” Albin said.