Improved nutrition could be one of the most cost-effective approaches to address many of the societal, environmental, and economic challenges facing nations across the globe today.”

US Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research (ICHNR), Washington, DC (2016)

Last week, the US ICHNR released the first ever National Nutrition Research Roadmap. The Roadmap highlights three broad questions that should guide federally-supported human nutrition research over the next 5 years:

  1. How can we better understand and define eating patterns to improve and sustain health?
  2. What can be done to help people choose healthy eating patterns?
  3. How can we develop and engage innovative methods and systems to accelerate discoveries in human nutrition?

Within each of these broad questions, 3-4 more specific questions (“topics”) were also proposed. One such “topic” is of particular note given my research interests and also with regards to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released last fall. You may recall the buzz around the release: they excluded any discussion of environmental sustainability, deeming this topic ‘outside the scope of nutrition and dietary guidance,’ which is in direct opposition to the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The new Roadmap explicitly mentions the importance of this topic:

How can interdisciplinary research identify effective approaches to enhance the environmental sustainability of healthy eating patterns?

The word, “interdisciplinary,” is key. Preventing nutrition-related chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes will require collaborative projects across a range of disciplines: not only nutrition, but also the biomedical sciences, food science, agricultural science, environmental science, statistics, economics, law, ecology, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. The Roadmap emphasizes the need to train and support an “interdisciplinary workforce,” and, I think, this should be reflected in federal policies (e.g., the Dietary Guidelines). It is encouraging to see that one of the long-term initiatives highlighted in the Roadmap was to:

“Assess short- and long-run sustainability and economic implications of population-level transition to healthier diets as defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including such factors as water, energy, land use, and biodiversity.”

A step in the right direction.

One final word on the Roadmap: it does mention a global (albeit superficial and non-specific) perspective:

“While the topical selections focused primarily on reducing nutrition-related chronic diseases in the United States, the research and resource initiatives could guide other national governments, non-government organizations, or collaborative global efforts to advance human nutrition research to improve and sustain health across the globe.”