Call to action for stronger, better-funded federal nutrition research

Experts and coalition call for better coordination to prevent costly diet-related illnesses and better address food insecurity while accelerating discoveries, economic growth, and improving public health and population resilience
July 20, 2020

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Siobhan Gallagher

BOSTON (July 20, 2020, 8:00 a.m. EDT)—The nation needs to strengthen and increase funding for federal nutrition research and improve cross-governmental coordination in order to accelerate discoveries, grow the economy, and – most importantly – improve public health, food/nutrition security, and population resilience, according to a high-level group of research, policy, and government experts.

Their new white paper, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and entitled “Strengthening national nutrition research: Rationale and options for a new coordinated federal research effort and authority,” is published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition from the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).

The group’s recommendations were announced during a live streaming event on July 15 hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. A coalition of major organizations is standing in support of the paper and the need for greater investment and coordination in federal nutrition research.

Currently, nutrition research is separately conducted and supported by more than 10 federal departments and agencies. The authors lay out two complementary strategies for harmonizing these efforts and expanding federal investment in nutrition science. The strategies are: 

  • improving cross-government coordination of nutrition research, through policies such as a new Office of the National Director of Food and Nutrition or new U.S. Task Force on Federal Nutrition Research; and,
  • strengthening and accelerating nutrition research within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including creating a new National Institute of Nutrition, among other options.

“Every day, our country suffers massive health, social, and economic costs of poor diets.  The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the burdens of diet-related diseases on population resilience,” said last author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., dean and Jean Mayer Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “The nation has come together to achieve major science challenges in the past, such as putting a man on the moon. We need a similar major national effort to address current nutrition challenges, generating the critical science to rapidly treat and prevent diet-related diseases, improve health equity, increase population resilience to COVID-19 and future pandemics, and drive fundamental and translational discoveries for better lives.”

Over the last 20 years, the number of adults with diabetes has more than doubled and today, half of all American adults suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes. Cardiovascular disease afflicts about 122 million Americans and causes roughly 840,000 deaths each year. These preventable diet-related illnesses are resulting in skyrocketing healthcare costs, widening diet-related health disparities, and weakened national security and military readiness. Our food systems are also creating unparalleled challenges to our natural resources.

“The American Society for Nutrition has long advocated to strengthen nutrition research, and this new white paper comprehensively assesses federal nutrition research efforts, bringing to light challenges and opportunities for better health for Americans,” said ASN Past President Richard D. Mattes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.. “Strengthening and investing in federal nutrition research will generate new discoveries to improve the health of Americans; reduce chronic diseases, disparities, and healthcare costs; strengthen military readiness and American businesses, and reinvigorate farming and rural communities.”

The paper was introduced at an ASN Nutrition 2020 symposium, with some co-authors serving as panelists. The panelists and authors note that greater federal coordination and investment in nutrition, and action from a broad coalition of food and nutrition policy stakeholders, could accelerate discoveries and positively impact the economy, public health, and population resilience.

For more information about the group of organizations and individuals involved in this work, visit the Federal Nutrition Research Advisory Group and, to weigh in on the best ways forward, ASN’s Strengthening National Nutrition Research webpage.

Co-authors are former USDA and NIH policy advisor Sheila Fleischhacker, former USDA Undersecretary Cathie Woteki; former director of the Office of Dietary Supplements Paul Coates; former NIH Division of Nutrition Research Coordination and Associate Director for Nutritional Sciences Van Hubbard; MS/MPH candidate at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts Grace Flaherty; former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman; former Senator Tom Harkin; former FDA Commissioner David Kessler; CEO of The Antiogenesis Foundation Will Li; Chairman of the Department of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief at the Department of Medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital Joe Loscalzo; Bipartisan Policy Center chief medical advisor Anand Parekh; NASEM Food Forum Chair and President of SR Strategy Sylvia Rowe;Vice Chancellor and Dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M Patrick Stover; former executive director of USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Angie Tagtow; and Yun Family Foundation’s Joon Yun.

Fleischhacker, S.E. et al., (2020). Strengthening national nutrition research: Rationale and options for a new coordinated federal research effort and authority. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa179

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About the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school’s five divisions – which focus on questions relating to nutrition and chronic diseases, molecular nutrition, agriculture and sustainability, food security, humanitarian assistance, public health nutrition, and food policy and economics – are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy.