Improving Health, Fighting Disparities with Bill to Create Nutrition Education Resource Library for Physicians

ALBANY, N.Y. — A bill in the New York State Legislature, S4401-A/ A5985-A, would ensure physicians are kept informed about the latest continuing medical education opportunities in nutrition, which would help them improve patient health outcomes and reduce racial disparities for the millions of New Yorkers struggling with diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The bill sponsors, Senator Lea Webb and Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, and New York physicians discussed the bill at a press conference in the State Capitol on Tuesday, May 23.

The measure would require the New York State Department of Health to maintain and regularly share with physicians an online resource library with information about the availability of continuing medical education (CME) coursework or training in nutrition, including resources regarding racial disparities in outcomes for diet-related diseases.

“Heart disease, which kills more New Yorkers each year than any other cause of death, can often be treated with dietary interventions,” said Senator Lea Webb. “This legislation closes a gap that currently exists in physician training, ensuring that doctors are equipped to deliver comprehensive and up-to-date information to their patients regarding nutrition and diet-related illnesses, including resources regarding racial and other disparities in health outcomes. To lower the risk of heart disease and other comorbidities, we must empower folks with education about the dangers of diets filled with sugar, salt, and saturated fats. While this bill increases equitable access to education about the importance of healthy diets, we must also continue to champion legislation that increases access to healthy food for low-income and marginalized communities.”

“Decades of medical research has shown that poor nutrition is related to nearly one in five deaths worldwide,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF – Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing. “Yet, despite the grave consequences of unhealthy diets, such as those laden with sugar and saturated fats, physicians practicing in New York State often do not receive any continuing education on nutrition and most medical schools brush over the topic. I am proud to be working alongside the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to change that dynamic through legislation. Bill A5985-A would have the New York State Department of Health create a resource library for physicians that outlines coursework and training they may receive on nutrition, including plant-based diets. With diet-related illnesses becoming more frequent, we must raise awareness of the role that nutrition plays in our health.”

Despite the alarming trends in diet-related diseases, 75% of medical school curricula do not include the minimum number of hours in nutrition coursework recommended by the National Research Council. However, a poll of New York State physicians found that 90% of respondents think nutritional guidance should be a routine part of patient visits and 82% would discuss nutrition if they had more training. S4401-A / A5985-A will close this gap and help ensure physicians in New York have access to up-to-date information about available continuing medical education coursework in nutrition.

“In our intensive lifestyle change programs we have seen that nutrition interventions can be a huge benefit for New Yorkers facing diet-related chronic disease,” said Ted Barnett, MD, FACLM, founding president of the Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute and a supporter of S4401-A / A5985-A. “But nutrition isn’t normally taught in medical school and so it’s rarely discussed in a typical doctor visit. Physicians need to have all the tools in the toolbox for fighting disease. This bill would ensure that nutrition is another lifesaving tool for all New York physicians to use.”

Good nutrition plays a role in reversing and preventing diseases affecting millions of New Yorkers. Heart disease—strongly linked to diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol—is the leading cause of death in New York. More than 1.5 million adults in New York have type 2 diabetes, which is also linked to diet. Certain cancers, including breast, colorectal, and prostate, are also affected by nutrition. Diseases impacted by nutrition, including type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, and COVID-19, take a disproportionate toll on New Yorkers of color. 

“Millions of New Yorkers suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases will benefit from this common-sense legislation that gives physicians access to continuing medical education resources about clinically proven methods, particularly adopting a plant-based diet, to treat these conditions. This is information doctors want—and need—to help save patient lives,” said Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Joining the lawmakers were Rebecca de la O, a medical student at NYU Long Island School of Medicine, Jamie Kane, MD, an obesity specialist with Northwell Health, Jennifer Yager, DO, a psychiatrist with Albany Medical Center, Kevin Woods, MD, a cardiologist with Capital Cardiology Associates, David Eisenberg, MD, a pediatrician with Nathan Littauer Hospital, and Andrew Binovi, director of government affairs for the Physicians Committee. 

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