Potential to accelerate discoveries and positively impact the economy, public health, and population resilience

A white paper from a group of research, policy, and government experts, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and published today in the American Society for Nutrition (ASN)’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , offers a vision to strengthen existing federal nutrition research and improve cross-governmental coordination. Nutrition research is now separately conducted and supported by more than 10 federal departments and agencies.

“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, PhD, MPH, RD. “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 white paper, “ 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 . ASN is a member of a coalition of major organizations in support of the need for greater investment and coordination in federal nutrition research described in the white paper. This group of signatories and the paper’s recommendations were announced during a July 15 th live streaming Bipartisan Policy Center event.

The white paper was co-authored by a diverse group of experts including, among others, Dan Glickman, former USDA Secretary of Agriculture; David Kessler, MD, former FDA Commissioner; Tom Harkin, former Senator; and a number of ASN members including Cathie Woteki, PhD, former USDA REE Undersecretary; Patrick Stover, PhD, Texas A&M AgriLife Vice Chancellor; and Sheila Fleischhacker, JD, PhD, former senior public health and science policy advisor at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Division of Nutrition Research Coordination.

The white paper lays out two complementary strategies for harmonizing and expanding federal investment in nutrition science: 

  • 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;
  • strengthening and accelerating nutrition research within the NIH, including creating a new National Institute of Nutrition, among other options.

Over the last 20 years, the number of adults with diabetes has more than doubled 1 and today, half of all American adults suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes. 2 Cardiovascular disease afflicts about 122 million Americans and causes roughly 840,000 deaths each year. 3 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. 4

“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 co-author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., principal investigator and 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.”

The paper was introduced in an ASN Nutrition 2020 symposium , with some white paper 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 .

1. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Diabetes. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html (Last visited July 9, 2020). 2. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf (Last visited July 9, 2020). 3. American Heart Association. 2020Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update Fact Sheet At-a-Glance. Available at https://professional.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_505473.pdf . (Last visited July 9, 2020). 4. Micha R, Penalvo J, Cudhea F, Imamura F, Rehm C, Mozaffarian D. Association between dietary factors and mortality from heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes in the United States. JAMA. 2017;317(9):912-924.