Why doctors should talk about nutrition

Medicine student Wilma Oosthoek is founder of Stichting Student & Voeding (Student & Nutrition Foundation) and one of the early contributors to Challenge Accepted. She shares her story with us. 

Stichting Student & Voeding aims to spread knowledge about nutrition and lifestyle to as many future doctors as possible. Their goal is to introduce courses in nutrition and lifestyle choices into the curriculum of medical studies, not just in Rotterdam, but at all medicine faculties in the Netherlands. ‘Why is it standard for a doctor to ask you whether you smoke or not, but not what you ate last week?’

What was you inspiration to start Student & Voeding?
Wilma Oosthoek: ‘In 2016 I was invited to a congress about nutrition (‘Arts & voeding’). The conference was quite expensive to attend, but I did go, because it fit right into my area of interest. During my previous three years at university I had discovered something important was missing: information about the relationship between health and nutrition, and health and lifestyle choices, such as sleep, physical activity, respiration, stress management, et cetera. Every person has to eat, including people who suffer from chronic diseases. Perhaps food cannot solve every problem, but what if we can make people suffer a little less? Or increase someone’s well-being with a certain diet? There is a lot of evidence available, except it wasn’t put into practice.’

What are your goals for the future?
‘We would like to implement courses about nutrition and lifestyle in the curriculum. Last year we started small, by offering an extra-curricular ten-week course called SELF (Students Experienced in Lifestyle and Food), for those who were interested. It was a great success, so we plan to offer the course again this year. Five other medical faculties also showed interest in implementing the same course. I would like to see a future where it’s normal for a doctor to discuss preferable diets and nutrition and lifestyle choices with their patients, to promote better health and well-being.’

'We would like to implement courses about nutrition and lifestyle in the curriculum.'

Medicine student Wilma Oosthoek, founder of Stichting Student & Voeding

Why isn’t nutrition a part of the medicine curriculum already?
‘It is very hard to prove scientifically that nutrition and lifestyle impact health and healthcare. People generally don’t maintain consistent diets, so it’s hard to prove the effects of individual nutrients on the body. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use the effects of nutrition at all! There is consensus on what makes a lifestyle choice healthy. It would be a good start to at least share that information.
'A lot of diseases of our time are linked to nutrition: like diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart diseases. As healthcare costs are rising and more people are afflicted by lifestyle-related diseases, we as doctors should start to think about long-term health solutions and prevention. Our current healthcare system is old-fashioned; it’s based on concepts of illness and drugs, instead of health and lifestyle. And then there’s another problem. Prevention is a vague concept to the general public. Young people don’t think about the risk of a heart attack when they’re eating junk food, because to them it’s just something that might happen in a distant future. I want to become a doctor who encourages people, in and outside of the hospital, to take control of their health through diet, physical activity, and stress management. At the same time, I want to inspire other doctors to think outside of the ‘pillbox’ when it comes to managing chronic diseases.’

Is it possible to change the system?
‘Yes, I believe we can. We can start with the future; with today’s students who are being trained to become doctors. Then one day our foundation won’t be necessary anymore, because nutrition will be a solid part of the curriculum.'

More information

First day of the Student & Voeding course is January 9th 2018 at Erasmus University Rotterdam and  January 10th at Leiden University.
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