Cardiologists lack education, willingness to discuss nutrition

Cardiologists agree that eating right is an important way to combat cardiovascular disease. But, a new study shows, there is a gap between what is known and what is shared with patients.

A team of researchers—led by the Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology, a nonprofit that works to educate healthcare professionals on improve heart health through nutrition and lifestyle—collected 930 online surveys from cardiologists, fellows-in-training and cardiovascular team members, with questions focused on personal eating habits, previous nutrition education and attitudes regarding nutrition in patient care.

The study, published June 12 in the American Journal of Medicine, showed a lack of education and training for cardiologists who would like to discuss such matters with patients. Significant findings included:

  • 90 percent said they received little to no nutritional education during fellowship training.
  • 59 percent reported no such education during internal medicine training.
  • 31 percent said they received no such training while in medical school.
  • 67 percent of cardiologists reported spending three minutes or less per visit discussing nutrition with patients.

Though current education may be lacking, nearly 90 percent of respondents said dietary interventions with those with cardiovascular disease would provide substantial benefits.

"Although cardiovascular guidelines describe nutrition as a foundation of care, neither education nor practice among cardiologists and cardiovascular team members reflect that priority," said lead author Stephen Devries, MD, executive director of the Gaples Institute. "While the report notes serious deficiencies, it highlights tremendous opportunities to improve cardiovascular care, save lives and reduce healthcare costs. We hope these findings serve as a call to action for much greater emphasis on nutrition in the training and practice of cardiovascular specialists."

Curiously, the survey also showed cardiologists who prioritize their own eating habits are more likely to discuss such lifestyle changes with patients. Only 20 percent of respondents claimed to eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, roughly the same proportion as the public.

"Cardiologists with the most vegetable and fruit consumption were also more likely to believe it was their responsibility to discuss detailed dietary information with their patients," said Devries. "Therefore, one way to possibly improve patient counseling and health is for physicians to first optimize their own diet."