In the heart of mid-city New Orleans, students at Tulane School of Medicine are taking a break from biochemistry and anatomy classes to learn how to sauté, simmer, and broil as a part of a pioneering new program that teaches its first and second-year medical students how to cook their way to health.
Tulane's culinary medicine program launched in 2012. Since then, sixteen other medical schools around the country have added cooking classes to their students' curriculum. These courses are designed to give future doctors experience and knowledge in creating healthy, homemade meals with the hope that the culinary skills they gain in class will allow them to counsel patients about making practical changes to their diet and improve their overall health.
In creating the culinary medicine curriculum, Tulane became the first medical school to count a chef as a full-time professor. It went on to build the country's very first medical school-affiliated teaching kitchen, where students learn how to apply the basics of nutritional education to cook meals that are as healthy as they are tasty.
Chef Leah Sarris obtained her BS in Culinary Nutrition from the prestigious Johnson & Wales University
Tim Harlan is both a chef and a doctor, and is the leader of Tulane's culinary medicine program. He has high hopes that by adding practical culinary skills into the school's medical curriculum, they will trigger a shift in the ways the doctors and patients communicate about health and nutrition. As rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes continue to climb, it is exceedingly important for physicians to be able to offer specific guidance to their patients about lifestyle changes regarding diet, physical activity, and weight control. Medical students and their future patients are not the only ones benefitting from this revolutionary program.
According to the program's website, "Medical students volunteer at these classes and teach participants cooking techniques as well as nutrition and general tips on healthier eating. In addition, students participate in community events including health fairs with such partnering organizations as the American Diabetes Association. During these events, nutrition information is provided, food demonstrations often performed and counseling is offered. Body Mass Index, blood pressure and blood glucose readings are often available as well from future medical and culinary professionals."
The program couldn't have come at a better time, as obesity rates in America continue to climb. With the slew of public-awareness campaigns and other efforts to demonstrate the importance of monitoring one's weight in recent years, most experts believed that obesity rates had more or less leveled off - however this does not appear to be the case. A study published just this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rate of obesity among American adults has risen to 38%, up from the 32% from nearly a decade ago.
Advocates of the program hope to see changes in how doctors treat and manage chronic illness in their patients. Even more radically, they see a future in which doctors can write their patients recipes in the form of prescriptions - meaning insurance companies can treat food as an expense to be reimbursed.
The program that began in a single medical school has the potential to create a ripple effect that transforms the nature of today's current healthcare system, lowering health costs by creating a citizenry of healthy, active individuals who are less at risk for obesity-related illnesses.It is impossible for people to take full control of their health if they don't have access to nutritional information or are confused about how to apply such knowledge to their daily diets.The innovative culinary health program gives students, patients, and community members an experience that allows them to make simple lifestyle changes and lead a life of wellness.