The United States government continues to pour trillions of dollars into the treatment of lifestyle-related diseases while spending only a fraction on programs designed to improve health. Annual spending on nutrition research averages to only $1.5 billion annually, which may like plenty but is almost nothing compared to the over $1 trillion in direct and indirect costs of diet-related diseases in the U.S. each year. To put it into an even smaller context, the U.S. also spends over $5 billion on marketing for candy products.
At the same time, the fate of the USDA’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which will aim to include nutrition needs for pregnant women and young children, hangs in the balance of unpredictable funding and competing industry interests. The Dietary Guidelines Committee is experiencing an onslaught of commentary from entities like the American Beverage Association and the Peanut Institute, who each wish to have their agendas addressed within the Guidelines. While outside funding certainly plays an important role in fueling national nutrition efforts, it is often insufficient and may also come at the cost of a balanced and neutral approach to national nutrition recommendations.
Of the 27 agencies within the National Institutes of Health, not one is focused primarily on nutrition or diet quality. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been at the forefront of all nutrition-related efforts within the federal agencies, its primary focus continues to be agricultural science and farming practices, and is influenced disproportionately by industry interests as a result. The lack of emphasis on the nutritional factors of health is helping to perpetuate the health consequences of poor diet and health disparities among communities prone to adverse dietary choices due to food insecurity and other socioeconomic factors.
Will a National Institute of Nutrition help to resolve these issues?
The call n for a National Institute of Nutrition and Food Health (NINFH) is spearheaded Dr. Joon Yun, a Salk Institute trustee and partner of a hedge fund who has helped fund millions of dollars into longevity science research. Dr. Yun argues that nutrition research should have a space to operate apart from agricultural research The NINFH would also be responsible for providing research-based, expert opinion to inform programs to improve nutrition and public health. Accomplishments that may be made by the NINFH include bridging the gap between diet and health outcomes, filling the funding gap for nutrition research and programs, keeping human nutrition science separate from agricultural science, and acting as a trusted authority for the public to seek information about optimal nutrition. Dr. Yoon suggests that the NINFH may be proposed in one of two ways: as an additional agency with the National Institutes of Health or as an independent entity, like the National Cancer Institute.
Plus, with the NINFH there is a chance that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will no longer be in the hands of the USDA and may be more independently created in a more streamlined fashion. Implications for public health nutrition include better data and funding to support community programs like Head Start, WIC, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), providing better-quality nutrition support for communities in need.
What are your thoughts on a National Institute of Nutrition in the United States?
By: Emily Masek, ASU TRANSCEND Trainee
Emily is a first-year Master’s degree student and dietetic intern at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. She began her nutrition studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, earning a Bachelor’s in nutrition sciences with a minor in kinesiology, and has helped publish two papers about the role of dietary polyphenols in inflammatory diseases. Her current thesis research will involve a pilot study about the effects of a parenting education intervention on the diet quality of Hispanic and Latino adolescents in Phoenix, Arizona.