SUNY Downstate Pilots Food As Medicine Initiative For Medical & Public Health Students
Brooklyn, NY – SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University recently announced the launch of its brand-new University Hospital of Brooklyn (UHB) Food as Medicine Initiative, a supplemental course program for students about diet, nutrition, and health. A $10,000 discretionary grant from the Office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, SUNY Downstate’s Committee on Plant-Based Health and Nutrition, and the student-run Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group supported the initiative.
The program, headed by Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, is comprised of two online courses with about six hours of up-to-date evidence about diet, nutrition, and health. The courses — developed by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and the Gaples Institute — supplement the existing College of Medicine nutrition curriculum, which emphasizes macronutrients and deficiency states, with a more holistic emphasis on food as medicine. Fifty-one College of Medicine and School of Public Health students completed the program, which was made available to students for free through Borough President Adams’ funding.
“We have known about the healing properties of nutrition since the days of Hippocrates, who famously said ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ But too many health care workers-in-training do not receive adequate education in medical school about how diet can combat certain chronic diseases, which leads to poorer health outcomes, and a widespread misconception that chronic diseases can just be ‘managed’ with medication. My own personal health journey of reversing my Type 2 diabetes through a whole-food, plant-based diet challenges that narrative. That’s why I was proud to fund this Food as Medicine Initiative in partnership with SUNY Downstate. This initiative builds on our previous advocacy, including the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program at Bellevue Hospital. It is my hope that we can scale up programs like these at medical schools throughout the city in the years ahead and ensure all health care workers are equipped with the knowledge about the importance of healthy diet when they enter the workforce,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“We are always inspired to expand our collaborative offerings, and especially those where we can focus on disease prevention,” said School of Public Health Dean Kitaw Demissie, M.D., Ph.D. “We are grateful to our College of Medicine, the Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group, and Borough President Eric Adams’ continued commitment to engaging the community about the importance of diet, health, and nutrition. In communities with high rates of chronic illnesses, we must prepare our healthcare professionals to look closely at these variables.”
“There is no better way to help patients heal themselves than to provide them with this valuable information,” said Anika Daniels-Osaze, Ed.D, MPH, Director of Diversity Education and Research in Downstate’s College of Medicine. “I believe that every student looking to enter a career in a health profession and every healthcare provider should be required to take this course — particularly as we continue to address health disparities in underserved communities.”
Plant-forward nutrition is a powerful and often overlooked approach to preventing, treating, and — in some cases — reversing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The Food as Medicine Initiative will address how preventing these conditions will create a more sustainable and equitable healthcare future.
“Everyone should have access to this information. Too often, pharmacological treatments are the go-to for chronic disease management instead of dietary interventions that are clearly backed by science,” said Aliye Talal Mosaad, MPH, a public health doctoral student. “I changed my dietary habits after completing these certificate courses and shared the knowledge I learned with my family to help them improve their diets.”
SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University plans to continue offering the Food as Medicine coursework and its existing educational programming around lifestyle medicine. Downstate is home to one of the first Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group (LMIG) in the New York metro area under the auspices of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Additionally, SUNY Downstate has an active Committee on Plant-Based Health and Nutrition, a multidisciplinary effort by the College of Medicine, School of Public Health, and the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President. Finally, the student-led Downstate Initiative on Nutrition Empowerment (DINE) Club recently installed a vegetable garden on campus to facilitate community gathering and educational initiatives around agricultural sustainability and nutritional wellness.
For more information about SUNY Downstate’s Food as Medicine Initiative, please visit https://www.downstate.edu/plant-based/.
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