Researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) are filling a much needed gap for students in medical schools around the world with its Nutrition in Medicine curriculum.

The curriculum centers on an initiative to bring better nutrition education to medical students and practicing physicians. Many now agree that one of the most important public health measures is to focus on improving individual diet. However, a UNC survey of over 100 American medical students revealed that medical students were underserved in nutrition instruction. Bottom line, medical students need more nutrition knowledge.

To help combat this lack of focus on nutrition as a core element of medical practice, the Nutrition in Medicine (NIM) curriculum offers a series of free, online instruction modules. Nutrition in Medicine, led by NRI’s Martin Kohlmeier, M.D., Ph.D., and NRI Director Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., is an initiative to incorporate innovative, effective, and current nutrition education into medical school curriculum. This interactive course series includes explanations of how diet directly impacts individual health, and covers core topic such cancer nutrition, cardiovascular disease, nutrition for children, dietary supplements and nutrition for the elderly. The program also teaches the biochemical, clinical and epidemiological elements of nutrition science and offers preventive perspectives of nutrition.

Current medical students are not the only ones in need; practicing physicians also need to supplement their continuing education by understanding the importance of nutrition. Nutrition is an important factor in heart disease, diabetes and cancer. To directly address this particular need, Kohlmeier and Zeisel have created online courses designed specifically for practicing doctors. This online instruction, titled “Nutrition Education for Practicing Physicans,” helps medical professionals build their expertise and confidence when working with patients, especially those headed toward chronic disease.

Dr. Kohlmeier shares that his medical nutrition education online programs have proven very successful. He explains “About 25% of all US medical students currently use our programs, and our programs are available through more than 150 universities worldwide.” Kohlmeier is now developing a website for health professionals that can help tailor personalized nutrition plans, based on user and physician input. While still in pilot state, this online tool will ultimately be available directly to the consumer.