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Dr Paul Mason

Why do doctors give bad nutritional advice? Dr. Paul Mason explains

Today, we are gradually acknowledging that what we eat plays a major role in our health. However, according to Dr. Paul Mason, this has not always been the case. In a recent online virtual Public Health conference, he explained that many doctors hardly receive sufficient nutritional training, of which has played a crucial role in the food choices of general public.

“The fact is, even in 2021, most doctors don’t believe hook line and sinker, the nutritional falsehood that they have been taught in medical school.” He said, “I saw this myself when I gave a group of junior doctors a short test on nutrition and they were outscored by my receptionist. And if this reflects the nutritional knowledge level of the average doctor, what hope is there for the general public?”

Indeed, research has shown that despite an increased emphasis on obesity, diet- related sedentary disease, nutrition education remains lacking in many internal medical training programs. While many patients show up for annual health examinations at their physician’s clinics expecting feedback on what to eat and how much to eat, it may be a surprise that only 14 per cent of doctors feel qualified to offer the nutritional advice [1]. Nonetheless, according to Dr. Paul Mason, doctors are increasingly recognizing this blind spot and have set out to seek further research and training on nutritional matters.

But this comes with a new challenge. Much of this challenge can be explained by how medical curriculums have been developed historically, foregrounding disciplines like biology, behavior and disease to the detriment of food and nutrition. According to Dr. Mason, The legacy of this framework has made it a challenge for medical schools to retroactively integrate nutrition to their curriculums of which has had an impact on how medical prescriptions are carried out.

“Unfortunately, many of those (doctors) who educate themselves feel pressured to avoiding sharing their newly gained knowledge with patients as it is often in conflict with dietary guidelines,” he spoke of the drawbacks of venturing into non-conventional nutritional practices. 

“And so, patients keep on getting the same old, outdated nutritional advice. And the same pressures that many doctors often don’t provide their patients with the same nutritional advice that they could, also influences their prescribing habits,” he said adding that doctors may seem pressured to prescribe medications they wouldn’t if it were to a family member, leave alone the first creed, “do no harm”.

More so, such a scenario may have also played a key role in the choices the general public makes when shopping for foodstuffs. Dr. Mason has given an example of the food star rating system. The food/health star rating system is a labeling system which rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food. It generally assigns a rating from a 0.5 star to 5 stars. It is used as a quick and simple way to compare similar packaged foods in that, the more the star ratings; the healthier the food would be considered to be by the consumer. 

“They may for instance be guided in their food choices by the food star system not understanding that it is an absolute joke! Which is being gained by industry.” He said pointing out an example of a cereal containing 17 per cent sugar rating five starts while a naturally cured salmon containing only salt scored 1.5 stars. 

“When this is the kind of messaging we have, is it any wonder people make bad food choices?” he posed, “ And just as the public can be misled by the food star system, doctors can be deceived by the lack of openness and transparency in the reporting of data.”

In light of this, Dr. Mason stated that “If you are confused by your doctor’s advice, understand that doctors don’t have a monopoly on knowledge” recommending that it is his belief that doctors are at least as likely as everybody else to demonstrate cognitive dissonance when faced with evidence that challenges their beliefs.