by Michael McBurney, Head of Scientific Affairs at DSM Nutrition Products & Adjunct Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University
On December 17 and 18, the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science convened a meeting in collaboration with the World Health Organization to discuss the newly unveiled global research agenda for nutrition science. This unique meeting brought together key researchers, policy makers and leaders from the public and private sectors to discuss opportunities for each sector to engage in translating this agenda to action. Presentations covered the need for additional research, to build capacity, and opportunities to achieve consensus and resolve hidden hunger.
Global experts presented results from consultations the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science had gathered on 3 focus areas with significant research gaps: 1) trends in environmental (climate change, agri-food production, food policy) and societal trends (urbanization) affecting the availability of food and nutrition for the most vulnerable, 2) the application of systems biology approaches to solve unresolved issues of nutrition throughout the lifecycle, and 3) the identification of successful strategies which can be scaled to effectively and efficiently improve universal access to food and nutrition.
I had the opportunity to open the second day and share thoughts arising from a career that has transitioned from academics to packaged food manufacturing, back to academics and then to ingredient manufacturing. I believe that improving nutrition is a shared vision. Unfortunately, silos have been built which impede progress. Nutrient inadequacies can only be resolved by dismantling barriers that limit interactions across disciplines, geographies, and sectors - academic, non-government, government, and for profit.
As Stephan Tanda, Managing Board Member for DSM wrote for the Huffington Post, “Partnerships are the key to progress” By working together, harnessing insights from research with the will of the development community and the expertise and technologies of the private sector, we can achieve the necessary scale to reduce hidden hunger. It requires us all to work together, bringing our unique expertise to the task at hand.
The WHO estimates that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will account for 60% of the disease burden and 73% percent of all deaths globally in 2020. NCDs are destroying the economies of many countries. Improving nutrition is the most fundamental, impactful and cost-effective way to prevent NCDs. A global malnutrition agenda can be distilled into two primary issues: 1) helping people obtain an optimal balance of calories from fat, carbohydrate and protein to maintain their activity level, and 2) providing essential nutrients required for normal functioning of cells and organs. In the latter, I would add omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), lutein and zeaxanthin to the list of essential vitamins and minerals.
Food is personal. We have personal preferences. And we have belief and value systems. People seem to embrace technology when it comes to transportation, communication, medicine, and engineering. But not when it comes to nutrition and food science. Why doesn’t nutritional adequacy of the individual take precedent over other value systems when it comes to nutrition policy? Personal preferences are recognized as that – personal preferences - when it comes to communication options – landlines, cellular phones, or internet phone services.
As an academic researcher, my agenda was to ask questions. With insights came more questions – a perpetual cycle of seeking funds to conduct research, reporting the results, and then pursuing the next question. In industry, the agenda is to provide customer-valued solutions; research is an end to a means. When it comes to solving hidden hunger, we need to integrate these sectors and their activities.
Partnerships with shared visions can reduce hidden hunger locally and globally. Nutrition and food science should heed the successes of a globalized telecommunications industry. Telecommunication devices function around the world because public and private sectors worked together to establish global standards. Consumers benefit from the availability of multiple for-profit telecommunication manufacturers and service providers selling consumer-valued products. All accomplished without consensus on the health effects of cell phone radiation.
Feeding the world requires the same cooperation. The food and supplement industries have the manufacturing capacity and distribution networks to reach people across all parts of the lifecycle – including pregnancy. They are part of the solution. Babies will not stop growing until experts have all the evidence or their caregivers are educated to make different dietary choices.
We have a responsibility to work together - scientists from academics, government and non-government organizations, and industry - to scale and disseminate nutrition solutions NOW.
Michael is Head of Scientific Affairs at DSM Nutritional Products and Adjunct Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. He is responsible for a blog that provides perspective on nutrition research http://TalkingNutrition.dsm.com along with its twitter account @dsmnutrition. He also blogs at http://mimcburney.wordpress.com and tweets as @mimcburney.