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ODS Surveys Dietary Supplement Education at Nation's Academic Institutions

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting a survey on dietary supplement education in the nation's academic institutions between October-December 2006. Its purpose is to learn the extent to which any significant, focused instruction on dietary supplements and their role in health and disease is being provided to graduate and health-professional students in departments or schools of nutrition, food science, medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacology and pharmacy, kinesiology and exercise science, and complementary and alternative medicine.

Surveyed faculty will be asked to describe the instructional methods they use to provide instruction on dietary supplements (e.g., a course, seminar, or one or more lectures in a course) and to provide ODS with materials describing each program's content (such as syllabi, goals and objectives, assignments, readings). Other questions will identify what resources would be of value for incorporation into teaching activities about supplements and the factors working against providing more (or any) instruction on this topic. ODS will use the survey responses for several purposes, including (1) publishing a report about the nature and extent of dietary-supplement education in the United States at the post-baccalaureate level, (2) identifying information and resource needs that ODS can provide or develop, (3) establishing networks with an important group of stakeholders to ODS, and (4) helping to determine the content of a one-week intensive practicum on dietary supplements that ODS will conduct for the first time in May 2007.

Permission to conduct the survey has been obtained from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Survey administration and data collection are being handled by a contractor, Aspen Systems (now part of Lockheed Martin Information Technology). The entire project is coordinated by Dr. Mary Frances Picciano, ODS Senior Nutrition Research Scientist and Dr. Paul Thomas, ODS Scientific Consultant.

Over time, ODS hopes to promote, expand, and enhance high-quality instruction to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements. This survey will provide a basis for knowing where to start. Another goal for this broad ODS initiative is to expand the cadre of research scientists qualified by training and career development to undertake investigations on dietary supplements, with particular emphasis on young investigators, minorities, and women. In effect, the survey is soliciting input from academic faculty so that together we may provide more and better education about supplements to students and possibly even encourage some of them to pursue research in this area.