MHS — State of the Art


Childhood Obesity News recently spotlighted an important aspect of education for professionals: the concept of well-roundedness and multicultural awareness, as embraced and demonstrated by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health and Society (MHS). As a society and a culture, we need to know more about “the important roles that social, economic, racial and political factors play in determining why certain conditions are worse or more prevalent in certain groups.”

Whether it comes in the guise of textbooks or folklore, history counts. There are living Americans whose relatives who were used in medical experiments or even tortured by doctors. This can be a barrier to seeking out healthcare. People are injured at work for various incomprehensible reasons having to do with machismo or intoxication.

The food distribution network doesn’t function in some neighborhoods like it does in others. Very often, people simply can’t afford to move away from toxic family members. There is a lot to know, a lot to absorb before presuming to tell people how to live their lives, and the MHS philosophy seems to acknowledge that.


Three Vanderbilt researchers published a study in Social Science & Medicine. Granted, they are from the same institution that invented the program. Two of the co-authors are MHS Assistant Director and senior lecturer JuLeigh Petty; and undergraduate student Oluwatunmise V. Olowojoba. Lead author Jonathan M. Metzl (M.D., M.A., Ph.D., and Guggenheim Fellow) is the Director — but bias is not an issue, because everything is in the open.

Furthermore, the university welcomes anyone else to examine the curriculum and the outcomes. Dr. Metzl told the press:

We aimed to assess whether MHS raised the structural awareness of MHS students relative to that of students who undertook other courses of study…

We hypothesized that MHS majors would identify and analyze relationships between structural factors and health outcomes in deeper ways than did premed science majors or incoming first-year students, while also demonstrating higher understandings of structural factors in their approaches to race, intersectionality and health disparities.

The research subjects were students of three kinds: Undergrads in their last year of traditional pre-med studies; graduating MHS majors who intended to go on to medical school; and pre-med freshmen. The freshmen were included, Vanderbilt spokesperson Izzy Ercan implies, to try and figure out whether structurally aware students gravitate to the program, or whether the program produces structurally aware students, or both.


The structures are the built environment, the culture, the faith-based establishments, the stereotypes, the marketplace, the banking system, the education system, the prison-industrial complex, and many many others. Everyone has to deal with a certain number of those, and each factor influences a person’s ability to achieve and maintain health — and we haven’t even mentioned yet the U.S. healthcare system, the biggest factor of all.

The researchers learned that students exposed to the MHS curriculum “understood race at a deeper level,” and are less likely to hold monolithic beliefs about it. They are prepared to work graciously with diverse populations. They are more likely to regard a phenomenon like childhood obesity in terms of structural factors.

But in a society attuned to numbers and success, the important thing to know is that, compared to the traditional pre-med students, MHS students have higher rate of medical school acceptance.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Vanderbilt Redefines Pre-Med Education,, 06/16/09
Source: “Study finds positive relationship between MHS major and ability to recognize structural deficiencies in health system,”, 11/01/17
Photo credit: Rex Hammock on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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