A parallel curriculum in lifestyle medicine


  • Funding: None.
  • Conflict of interest: None.
  • Acknowledgements: None.
  • Ethical approval: The Joslin Diabetes Center Committee on Human Studies deemed this project exempt. Students were asked to complete the surveys anonymously for class evaluation and publication. Informed consent was not required by the Joslin Diabetes Center Committee on Human Studies for this type of study.



Less than 50 per cent of US primary care doctors routinely provide guidance to their patients on lifestyle behaviours such as diet, physical activity or weight control, despite the prediction by the World Health Organization that by 2020, two-thirds of disease worldwide will be the result of poor lifestyle choices. This gap in patient–clinician dialogue is perhaps the result of a lack of structured training in medical school surrounding the components of lifestyle medicine.


Although Harvard Medical School does have a required course in nutrition, there are no requirements for the other components of lifestyle medicine, including physical activity, behaviour change and self-care.


Since 2009 Harvard Medical School has addressed this absence in the curriculum by developing a student-led, faculty member-advised, parallel curriculum in lifestyle medicine. Medical student participants were invited to take part in anonymous questionnaires between 2009 and 2013, which gathered data about personal ability and attitude in counselling patients on lifestyle behaviours, as well as subjective data on the curriculum content and applications to effective medical practice.

Less than 50 per cent of US primary care doctors routinely provide guidance to their patients on lifestyle behaviours


Each year, students have pointed to a lack of lifestyle medicine knowledge because of a gap in the traditional curriculum surrounding topics such as physical activity, nutrition and behaviour-change strategies, and indicated that the inclusion of this knowledge and these skills was an important component of medical education. Although participation is currently voluntary, this is the first such curriculum of this type and addresses a critical gap in undergraduate medical education.