A new council at the Friedman School is recommending a national nutrition research moonshot
In a joint resolution released on February 19, a new group of food and nutrition business and advocacy leaders call for a new national evaluation and strategy for greater federal food and nutrition research and coordination.
Created last year, the Food and Nutrition Innovation Council at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University brings together diverse stakeholders, including established companies and startups in health care, wellness, food, and agriculture, investment funds, nonprofit ventures, and advocacy groups.
The global food system is undergoing rapid disruption, driven by growing recognition of the challenges and opportunities for shaping health of people and the planet. The council’s mission is to guide and catalyze this ongoing innovation in the food, agriculture, nutrition, and wellness sectors to be science-driven and mission-oriented toward health, equity, and sustainability.
As part of this commitment to science, the Food and Nutrition Innovation Council has released a resolution entitled “Call to Advance Federal Nutrition Research” [PDF], with thirty-seven members signing on. This resolution was stimulated by a shared recognition among council members that suboptimal diet—a leading cause of poor health and preventable health-care spending in the U.S. and globally—requires greater national harmonization, leadership, and funding for advancing key scientific questions.
The resolution calls for a new coordinated federal nutrition research effort, listing potential actions and their associated benefits. The potential benefits cited include, among others:
- More intra-governmental collaborations with additive and synergistic funding of existing nutrition research efforts
- A new structure within the NIH, such as a new institute, center, or major cross-agency initiative focused on nutrition
- A focus on foundational basic science to accelerate transformative discoveries in nutrition, such as related to the gut microbiome, nutrition across the life course, military readiness, and personalized nutrition
- Coordination with ongoing research efforts across NIH and other federal agencies and departments on the role of nutrition in major diseases afflicting Americans
- Research on determinants of and approaches to addressing nutrition-related health disparities
- Research on “food is medicine” and other translational approaches to improve health and reduce health care costs
- Support for nutrition training and education, including of scientists, physicians, and other health-care professionals
The Food and Nutrition Innovation Council members note that this effort would have a significant return on investment, including gains in health, equity, military readiness, and sustainability, and especially lower health-care costs for diet-related illnesses.
“We generally know what the contours of a healthy diet look like, but there are more than enough unanswered questions to warrant a sustained and focused federal investment in nutrition research,” said Peter G. Lurie, president of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“It would be one thing if the toll of diet-related disease were not so high, but it is,” he said. “A new federal investment aimed at preventing expensive-to-treat and debilitating diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease will be worthwhile for its own sake, but also has the potential to be a windfall for taxpayers.”
“With the growing evidence for the enormous role diet plays in health, and the many existing challenges and exciting new opportunities, it’s time for a new national nutrition research ‘moonshot,’” said Dariush Mozaffarian, dean and Jean Mayer Professor at the Friedman School. “Such a new effort should leverage, harmonize, and catalyze—not diminish or replace—the current critical nutrition research and surveillance efforts being led across NIH, USDA, CDC, FDA, DOD, and other federal agencies.”
Complementary to the Food and Nutrition Innovation Council resolution, The Rockefeller Foundation is supporting a project at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy to identify current gaps in federal nutrition research funding, assess the potential benefits and areas of focus of a robust new federal nutrition research effort, and chart the potential options for and implications of a coordinated federal structure on U.S. nutrition research.