Profession

Doctors show bad example in chowing down

A California internist said meals at medical meetings should be more nutritious and planned with input from physicians.

By Damon Adams — Posted Feb. 9, 2004

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Next time you belly up to the dinner table at a medical meeting, consider skipping the cheesecake and soda pop.

A study of food served at 13 annual medical professional society meetings in 2000 found that meals and snacks lacked nutrition and were rich, sweet and high in calories. Such dietary offerings are not a good example for physicians to set when the nation is focusing on fighting obesity.

"There's no excuse for chips at every meeting and soda at every break, unless we're just trying to create more business in the cardiologist's office," said John La Puma, MD, a Santa Barbara, Calif., internist who co-authored the study in the winter 2003 issue of Disease Management, a quarterly medical journal.

Dr. La Puma and other researchers surveyed planners for 13 medical meetings, where 113,477 physicians downed 2 million meals and snacks during meetings that lasted an average 4½ days. Planners said budget and nutritional guidelines were most important when selecting cuisine.

Yet desserts were served at every lunch and dinner. Soda pop was offered at each break, as were potato chips, snack mixes or candies.

The study said the food might impair physician learning and increase fatigue due to excessive caloric intake and unhealthy fat intake.

"There's a high nod-off rate after lunch. The room doesn't clear out because there's golf. It clears out because they're sleepy," said Dr. La Puma, medical director of the Santa Barbara Institute for Medical Nutrition and Healthy Weight.

No doctors were involved in planning meeting meals, but maybe they should be, Dr. La Puma said.

He recommends improving the menus at medical meetings by serving fish instead of red meat, replacing butter with olive oil, increasing portions of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eliminating sugared soda.

"It's extraordinarily doable," Dr. La Puma said. "Because it's healthy doesn't mean it has to taste like cardboard."

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