An Apple a Day Won't Keep Doctors Away: Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth Students Engage in Nutrition

By: Sandy Rao, M.D. Candidate, Class of 2019


The WHO’s Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study is based on over 80,000 data sources to determine the most detrimental diseases and conditions to our society. In 2015 the top causes of death in the U.S. were ischemic heart disease and lung cancer, but the top risk factor for death and disability combined was dietary risks. This means our population’s diet is the underlying cause of morbidity and mortality in the US. Since nutrition plays a large role in our health, future physicians should have a strong understanding of this knowledge base and how to effectively communicate with patients about dietary habits.

So what are medical students doing about this? Three second year medical students at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Erin Flyod, Thomas Kuczmarski, and Sandy Rao, have started an optional Nutrition Elective for their classmates. The response was overwhelming, with the class reaching its maximum capacity of 20 students in just one afternoon. The course combines a series of nutrition lectures as well as cooking classes, led by other medical students at the Lebanon Co-op Community Kitchen. Support for this elective was provided by the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Geisel and Dr. Louis Kazal served as Faculty Advisor.    

Lectures included talks from physicians, nutritionists, and students. A naturopathic doctor, Dr. Rebecca Chollet, dietician, Gita Patel, spoke about how to use nutrition in treating patients and the benefits of consuming different food groups. Sandy Rao conducted a discussion about how to interpret nutritional research and shared results from studies with strong evidence; such as cinnamon’s efficacy in lowering blood sugar and the benefit of a Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health. Johnathan Burgess, a published natural foods chef, yoga studio owner, and third year medical student at Geisel, spoke about the healthcare and food industries during the development of the epidemics of obesity and lifestyle illness. Medical students Chris Louie, Emlyn Diakow, and Subasish Bhowmik led cooking classes for students, demonstrating how to make healthy, practical meals including black bean tacos, roasted chicken, rainbow coleslaw, and unique salads.

It is clear that the future health of our country depends not just on doctor’s ability to treat diseases, but also to prevent morbidity through healthy eating practices. This elective provides med students with the tools they need to best approach these practices with their patients, and with themselves. 

For more information, contact Sandy Rao at or Erin Floyd at