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Lifestyle medicine: a new medical specialty?

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k4442 (Published 25 October 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4442

Re: Lifestyle medicine: a new medical specialty?

As a medical student, I support and look forward to the paradigm shift into lifestyle modification as a therapeutic and preventative measure. I strongly advocate public health teaching and implementing lifestyle medicine into all curriculums because everybody needs to be aware of how lifestyle behaviours will shape our future community, in terms of chronic disease.

In 2017, a group of medical students in Bristol set up Nutritank Society, which promotes messages of nutrition and medical lifestyle education to all. Since then the popularity and demand for this has evidently soared, and the society now exists in 15 medical schools nationwide, and I proudly helped to set up the branch at Imperial College London. There is clear support from healthcare professionals, medical and non-medical students to become engaged with the importance of our wellbeing, as we empower each other, but ultimately patients within the community to look after themselves.

In this current age of the mental health crisis and with a growing awareness of stressful lifestyles, it would be unwise to not devote time and effort towards implementing change and improving the wellbeing of people. Advising people to modify simple behaviours through basic steps can be so much more beneficial for patient self-management and empowerment. Patient-centred self-management can be financially beneficial in the long-term, as the outcomes of chronic conditions improve and hospital visits are reduced[1].

Nutritional and lifestyle medicine do not belong in a separate box to our current practice of medicine. The notion that clinicians should be able to choose whether they want to (or not) learn about lifestyle medicine is highly irrelevant because it is already so deeply engrained within medical consultations as we continue to guide patients to eat well and exercise anyway. This is not a case of enforcing ideas onto other people, nor placing blame on patients for their disease, but rather giving them the responsibility and choice to do something about their circumstances. There is no disadvantage to educating patients further about lifestyle modification, only barriers such as time constraints, thus we need to look towards improving efficient methods of education.

Diseases are typically managed through treating the cause; however, becoming aware and advocating lifestyle medicine will aim to prevent the cause instead, by tackling issues at the root of the problem. Introducing these concepts to others is necessary and education through media is really critical to reach a wide enough cohort.

[1] Bodenheimer T, Lorig K. Patient Self-management of Chronic Disease in Primary Care. 2014;288:2469– 75. doi:10.1001/jama.288.19.2469

Competing interests: No competing interests

26 October 2018
Denise Lin
Medical Student
Imperial College London