May 30, 2019

It’s interesting to see the news items that appear in social media feeds. Today’s offering: an article from an agriculture magazine in the Philippines. “Doctors may soon be prescribing vegetables instead of drugs to prevent disease”. (Note the word ‘prevent’: this is not suggesting that existing treatments would change when the disease is present.)

What a great idea. Who would have thought, though, that people need a doctor to tell them to eat more vegetables? The idea of increasing vegetable consumption is hardly new, and information on just about every health or medical condition advises that we eat more vegetables.

So, if the idea of eating more vegies is so prevalent, why are there still people not getting the message? Or, if they are getting the message but not applying it, why not?

It might be different in the Philippines, but in Australia and New Zealand it’s easy to buy fresh vegies. The trouble is that too many people find reasons (excuses) that stop them from eating enough vegetables:

  • Don’t know how to cook / Don’t want to know how to cook
  • Don’t have time to cook / Won’t make time to cook
  • Exhausted at the end of the day so want something quick and easy / Don’t take time on the weekend to plan ahead
  • Vegetables are boring / Fast food is fun
  • The kids won’t eat vegetables / We’ve never tried for long enough to ensure the kids eat vegetables

Would it make a difference if, as suggested in the article, doctors prescribed vegetables instead of drugs to prevent disease?

For those aware of the benefits of a healthy diet, it would almost certainly encourage an even healthier diet. For those with no interest or no idea about healthy food choices, it might be a struggle, even in the face of serious health and medical concerns, to get them to take the hard route to changing their (and their family’s) eating patterns.

Taking pills is easy. Changing diet is hard.

Then we come to the actual advice the doctors would give. In their medical training, they get no education in nutrition and diet. Some choose to undertake further studies to broaden their knowledge, but the basic training for doctors is sadly lacking in this area.

If doctors are not trained in giving nutrition advice, what sort of advice can we expect from them?

It would almost certainly be advice based around the Healthy Eating Guidelines. It could be worse, of course, but these guidelines are not person-specific or condition-specific. They are a set of broad guidelines that apply to the whole population, offering a one-size-fits-all approach that cannot target specific concerns (with the exception of small variations based on age and gender).

Don’t get us wrong: doctors do an amazing job, and prescribing food instead of drugs for disease prevention is most certainly a great idea. So, too, would be adding food prescriptions to drug treatments for existing disease.

The problem is that with no training, does a doctor know any more about nutrition than any other health or medical person, or indeed, more than the local greengrocer? Doctors need to have nutrition education added to their training to enable them to give accurate and effective nutrition advice.