Oklahoma ranks 46th in the U.S. in overall health, according to the United Health Foundation’s 2019 annual report.
However, a passionate group of physicians and educators aims to improve that. Their focus? Better nutrition to foster longer, healthier lives.
The University of Oklahoma Culinary Medicine Program was established in 2018 as a joint initiative between researchers at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine and the OU College of Public Health to develop better nutrition and foster longer, healthier lives for all Oklahomans.
“Our program focuses on the health benefits of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and other plant-based whole foods as the foundation for a healthy diet,” says Marianna Wetherill, Ph.D., lead dietitian for the OU Culinary Medicine Program. “This type of eating pattern is consistently associated with overall longevity and recommended for the prevention and management of many chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
Ian Peake, a second-year medical student at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine, is excited about the innovative curriculum.
“I look at OU-Tulsa’s Culinary Medicine Program as a major step toward laying the foundation to improve future health outcomes across the board in our state.”
A recent article in the Journal of American Medical Association called for meaningful integration of evidence-based nutrition into medical school education.
“One student from a well-known medical school in NYC couldn’t believe that I actually had the chance to cook one-on-one with a patient living with diabetes and hypertension,” says Peake, after attending a medical conference.
The Culinary Medicine Program is piloting a series of culinary medicine classes with a cohort of patients receiving care at the OU-Tulsa Internal Medicine Clinic, according to Wetherill.
“We estimate 50 patients with diabetes, pre-diabetes and hypertension will complete these classes by the end of the study,” she says. “Apart from this study, we offer classes to community members each month. In total, we’ve taught over 130 classes since 2018, reaching over 250 health care learners and more than 350 community member/patient learners.”
Lori Whelan, M.D., lead physician for the OU Culinary Medicine Program, sums it up perfectly.
“If food is medicine, and doctors are the experts in medicine, then doctors need to be the experts in food.”