Article: US government doesn’t know or care about optimal nutrition


Research funded by the US federal government can tell us more about how to feed a barnyard chicken than about the best ways to eat to maximize the health of the country’s 330 million citizens.

That’s one of the provocative claims made in a new, in-depth feature about the sad state of nutrition research in the US, by POLITICO, an online political journalism outlet, which specializes in long-form articles on political and public policy issues.

Politico: How Washington keeps Americans sick and fat

The feature notes: “What Americans eat is making us sick on a staggering scale, but judging by federal investment in nutrition research, Washington doesn’t seem to care.”

The 6,500-word article notes that in 1970 only 14% of the population was obese. Now that number is 40%. Moreover, an estimated 70% of the population is overweight. Government-funded research, however, is aimed more at specific illnesses than it is to the root cause of so many diseases: poor diet.

Nutrition science has been falling as a priority within America’s medical research powerhouse, the National Institute for Health (NIH), for nearly 50 years. There also is no institute dedicated to the topic, no central leadership, and few staff, says the article by reporters Catherine Boudreau and Helena Bottemiller Evich.

… the federal government has devoted only a tiny fraction of its research dollars to nutrition, a level that has not kept pace with the worsening crisis of diet-related diseases. Studying the relationship between diet and health is such an afterthought that Washington doesn’t even bother tracking the total amount spent each year.

One researcher quoted in the article says “we know more about the nutrition of a chicken than we do a human,” because the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), which oversees the US Department of Agriculture nutrition research centers, sees itself as working for farmers rather than for the US population’s health.

In fact, while the USDA is responsible for formulating the country’s nutritional guidelines, it spends less than 10% of its budget on its research arm, the ARS. Its budget peaked at 9.4% in 1998, the article notes.

Many of the facts and opinions expressed in the article won’t come as a surprise to Diet Doctor readers, as our newsfeed in the past has often discussed issues with the USDA nutrition guidelines, the failings of nutrition research, and the ideological “nutrition wars” that sideline science for personal beliefs and biases.

The article notes that a small group of nutrition advocates are now trying to build momentum to establish a new institute for nutrition at the NIH. However, others are skeptical of the wisdom and feasibility of creating a new government-run nutrition agency at a time of extreme dysfunction in Washington.

As our medical director Dr. Bret Scher says: “We should not rely on the government to tell us how to eat and how to be healthy. History has taught us that. And at Diet Doctor, we hope to show you a broader perspective of how you can use nutrition to improve your health and your life.”


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