Intended for healthcare professionals


Lifestyle medicine: a new medical specialty?

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 25 October 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4442
  1. Anna Sayburn, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. annasayburn{at}

Educational developments suggest that lifestyle medicine is in the ascendance. Anna Sayburn asks if it could it help reduce chronic disease—and whether it places blame on patients

Lifestyle medicine’s adherents talk enthusiastically of fixing the broken medical model and saving the NHS. Does the launch of a new diploma and its introduction to the curriculum at medical schools such as Cambridge University signal its emergence as a standalone specialty—and what might its impact be?

“Not just nutrition”

The Lifestyle Medicine Global Alliance, which lists 16 regional members from around the world and runs online training,1 defines lifestyle medicine as “an evidence based medical specialty” that uses “lifestyle therapeutic approaches” to prevent, treat, or modify non-communicable chronic disease2—the disease area that accounts for 71% of deaths worldwide.3

These approaches include “a predominantly whole food, plant based diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substance use, and other non-drug modalities.”2

“Lifestyle medicine is not complementary or alternative—it’s mainstream,” says Rob Lawson, a retired NHS GP from East Lothian now working privately, who is chair of the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine (BSLM), founded in 2016. He says people need to realise it’s not just about nutrition. “You’ve got to get to the people who need it most. They’re not going to switch fish and chips for avocado and chia seeds,” he says. Helping people find a purpose in life and beat isolation can tackle the “upstream causes” of disease, he says.

Key to the delivery of lifestyle medicine is the ability to help people make sustainable lifestyle changes through behavioural change management techniques. “It’s all about behavioural psychology and buy-in,” says Alex Maxwell, a GP in Thornton Heath, south London, who is introducing lifestyle medicine into his practice.

Demand for education

In August, 40 healthcare professionals sat the first …

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