about food and health

Dr. Maya AdamWith three children and a busy career as a lecturer at the Stanford School of Medicine, Dr. Maya Adam knows firsthand the challenge of feeding her family healthy meals. This led her to create a popular online course for families highlighting easy, healthy recipes to get parents and kids excited about eating fresh food at home on a regular basis. More than 200,000 people signed up for the original course, which launched in 2013. The success of that endeavor led to Dr. Adam’s most recent project– a free, online course for physicians to learn more about the connection between food and health. The Introduction to Food and Health course, offered online by the Stanford Center for Continuing Medical Education, may be counted toward the American Board of Obesity Medicine certification requirements. Topics are presented in video format and include “Why do Physicians Need to Understand Food” and “A Sociocultural History of Obesity.” Access the course by clicking here and learn more about Dr. Adam below.

How did you become passionate about the connection between food and medicine? I have been teaching courses on children’s health and nutrition at Stanford since 2009 and, as a mother of three, the food environment in which our children are growing up has always concerned me. But then, in 2011, my son Misha was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. This was the first time I had to translate my understanding of nutrition science into dramatic change in terms of my own family’s food choices. In solidarity with Misha, our family embraced a gluten-free diet, experimenting with every kind of fresh, wholesome ingredient we could afford to recreate the family favorites we had so often enjoyed before Misha’s diagnosis. We spent a little more time together in the kitchen most evenings and we ate far less convenience food than we had in the past – but, to our surprise, we ended up enjoying our meals more than ever before. After a few years, we realized that the health of our entire family had improved as a result of this shift away from processed food and toward a diet of simple, delicious, home-cooked foods. The writings of Michael Pollan have also transformed the way I understand the relationship between food and health, so having him participate in the creation of this course for physicians has been incredibly meaningful. In my mind, his advice on food and the way we eat it is both timeless and incomparably sensible.

How can educating physicians about food ultimately impact patients? There is good evidence in the scientific literature underscoring the fact that physicians who practice a given health behavior are more successful at motivating their patients to practice that same behavior. The work of Erica Frank and others has shown that physicians who were able to quit smoking, for example, were far more likely to successfully counsel their patients who wished to stop smoking. This pattern appears to persist across other preventive behaviors like the use of seat belts and sunscreen. We are starting to see similar evidence about physicians who practice healthy eating behaviors. Nutrition education in medicine is often focused on the biochemistry of nutrients, yet human beings eat food, not nutrients. So, bridging the gap between nutrient-focused dietary advice and useful recommendations about food and eating behaviors is an important way in which physicians can support the longterm health of their patients. This has become increasingly important today, as we face our modern epidemics of diet-related disease.

What are physicians most surprised about after taking a course like this? Many physicians are surprised when they are confronted with the following question: How strongly would you advise a patient to follow the same diet you follow? In this course, physicians will be asked to examine their own eating behaviors and will be given the tools to optimize their own diets, while they simultaneously learn how they can most effectively counsel patients about their food choices and eating habits. This might seem daunting, given the time pressure physicians already face during the patient encounter. Having a parallel, self-paced course designed especially for patients (and available to them free of charge via a large online learning platform), physicians will be surprised at how simple and time-effective dietary counseling can be.

CLICK HERE to register for the course.