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N4T Investigators: What your doctor may not tell you

TUCSON – Steve Nath weighed 370 pounds in 2011. In 18 months, he lost 130 pounds. And he’s kept most of it off.

The 56-year-old Benson resident says if he hadn’t changed his diet and exercised, he’d be dead by now, due to multiple health problems.

“I had COPD, Type-2 diabetes, heart issues, kidney issues, high blood pressure that had been uncontrolled on a multitude of meds,” Nath told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Before Nath found Oro Valley family physician Ted Crawford, he had seen six doctors. He said they put him on 18 medications.

We asked Nath, “How many of them talked to you about nutrition?” He said, “Nobody talked to me about nutrition. It was always, ‘Take this, take this, take this.’”

Forty-six-year-old Jason Walden said he saw four doctors previously. “I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, I had type-2 diabetes,” the Oracle resident said.

Walden said his previous doctors “never mentioned anything about [food or nutrition].”

Several doctors have told the News 4 Tucson Investigators the lack of nutrition training at many medical schools nationwide is a “travesty.” Students learn a lot about biochemistry, prescribing pills, treatment and performing surgeries.

Dr. Crawford said, “We probably had 15 hours I’d say, total, during our entire curriculum,” at the Midwest medical school he attended.

Dr. Sean Elliott, Associate Dean of Curricular Affairs at the University of Arizona, said, “I received 30 minutes of nutritional training when I was a medical student in the late ’80s.”

Dr. Saray Stancic practices lifestyle medicine. She said, “The fact that we ignore these lifestyle behaviors and don’t address them at all, I think to me is borderline malpractice.” The New Jersey-based physician is featured in a new documentary, Code Blue. The film calls medical school curricula, “antiquated.”

Stancic said. “The leading cause of death in our country is heart disease. Six-hundred-thousand plus Americans die [from it] very year. And we have the knowledge and understanding today to prevent 480,000 deaths. And extraordinarily, we don’t speak to this.”

Dr. Crawford said, “Over 80 percent of all our chronic medical problems are caused by our lifestyle and primarily our poor diet. We don’t get training in that field so we’re not taught to promote that lifestyle.”

The congressionally-mandated minimum for medical school nutrition training is 25 hours over four years. A study by Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina showed that 71 percent of medical schools do not meet that minimum.

We asked Dr. Elliott at the U of A, “Why historically has there been so little nutrition training in medical schools?” He said, “It was just that it wasn’t felt to be a major determinant of health at the time.”

Elliott said science has evolved as has doctors understanding of the factors that impact on disease. “Fast forward now, in 2019, that understanding has increased significantly. But people and colleges are still navigating how best to teach nutrition,” Elliott said.

Elliott says there’s been a concerted effort at U of A to increase nutrition training, and that its medical students now receive at least 40 hours. “All health care providers have got to embrace the concept of holistic health. Nutrition, physical, emotional, spiritual. However, you find that.”

Dr. Stancic also became a patient when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1995. In 2003 she adopted a plant-based diet and has been well and medication-free since 2005.

Steve and Jason say they are doing well since switching to a whole-food plant-based diet. Dr. Crawford said about the diet, “It’s made a world of difference to hundreds of patients that I’ve seen.”
Crawford was asked what his advice is for patients? His answer was simple but not enough patients ask the questions: “Doctor, what should I eat? I mean, what’s the best way I should eat?”

Crawford works at Northwest Allied Physicians but is speaking for himself. Regarding lifestyle changes, he also said, “It is sad that physicians are not offering the most powerful tool we can give patients to actually reverse their chronic medical issues. None of their prescription medications can do that.”

For details on how you can watch, Code Blue, click here.

You can learn more about nutrition from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

If you have a story you would like to tell us about, please email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

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