There is growing recognition that solving the obesity epidemic and its downstream health consequences depends on preventative efforts at the individual, community and public health level. A 2013 analysis of childhood obesity in Chicago revealed an overall overweight/obesity prevalence of 43.3% among public school students. Physicians are at the frontline of assessing and advising patients on nutrition and weight; however only 27% of medical schools teach the recommended 25 hours of nutrition, and fewer than 14% of practicing physicians believe they were adequately trained in nutritional counseling.
In 2016 in an effort to move the needle on these numbers, and with the support of an ARCC pilot grant, we developed a partnership between the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University (OCIM) and Common Threads (CT). The mutually agreed upon goal was to develop a culinary medicine elective for medical students that included meaningful community service.
In addition to creating a shared commitment and a well-defined common goal, our initial steps to building our academic-community partnership were important to understand each other’s capacities and skill sets, and how the groups could best complement each other. For example, OCIM faculty had experience in the development of medical student educational programs and the steps needed for implementation into the medical school curriculum, while CT members brought vast experience in nutrition curriculum development and the process of working with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Stakeholders – CPS principals and Feinberg School of Medicine FSM) students – were included in early development meetings and provided feedback throughout the pilot implementation to ensure all key voices were heard and the product could meet their needs. Ultimately the collaboration was, and continues to be, truly successful because of a shared passion and commitment to the reduction of chronic disease through cooking and nutrition education, and a shared appreciation for the skills and expertise each team member brought to the table.
This partnership resulted in the development of a unique Cooking Up Health (CUH) elective for medical students in which they attend six sessions to learn about nutrition and hands-on cooking, and then go into underserved communities to teach elementary school children about healthy habits. The CUH curriculum is designed to teach students in medicine and allied health sciences through the lens of culinary medicine and community health.
Through this course, participants learn basic culinary skills, steps to create nutritious meals, relationships between food, health, and disease, and cultural competencies around nutrition. The participants also practice health coaching and teaching during both culinary and community class times.
For more information see our pages on our curriculum, outcomes and presentations.