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Background: Lifestyle Medicine (LM) is an emerging field that can enable providers to educate patients on the impact of their health behaviors. Therefore, LM is emerging as an important component of medical education. But studies investigating the effects of LM education in medical students are sparse.
Aims: This paper reports on a controlled study to test the effects of a lifestyle medicine education elective within the medical school curriculum.
Methods: The study was IRB approved. Fifty-eight preclinical students gave informed consent. Students completed screening instruments which assessed physical activity, consumption of fats and fruits/vegetables, anxiety, perceived distress, and mood. First-year students were assigned to the control group and were reassessed after three months. Second-year students chose one of three focus groups (nutrition, stress management or physical activity) and set a personal goal for change. Each focus group met a minimum of three times. At the end of the intervention, they were reassessed. The controls had the opportunity to participate in the same focus groups for the same amount of time. Statistical analysis comprised analysis of covariance and paired t-tests.
Results: Intervention students performed better than the controls in reducing perceived stress, anxiety, and dietary fat. Paired t-tests comparing baseline and post intervention in all subjects who had the intervention revealed significant improvements in perceived stress, anxiety, mood, dietary fat, fruits and vegetables consumption and number of minutes of physical activity. Analysis of the focus groups pre and post measures showed significant improvements in anxiety and perceived stress in the stress management groups, improvements in both measures of nutrition, but no significant changes in physical activity.
Conclusion: It is feasible to add LM concepts and techniques to the medical school curriculum. Medical students significantly improved multiple lifestyle medicine behaviors after being part of the elective. They also experienced the process of setting SMART goals and implementing a plan for change, which can be useful in their future practice.
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