You are what you eat. Every year, new scientific discoveries make clear that food is critical to health. In recent years, nutrition research trials have shown that a Mediterranean diet reduces cardiovascular disease; ultra-processed foods increase weight gain; omega-3 fatty acids improve IQ in preterm babies; cocoa prevents heart attacks; and vitamin D supplements do — well, almost nothing.
But many questions remain: What’s the best diet for weight loss? Do supplements really work? Can certain foods or better nutrition help cancer treatment, maintain brain health, treat autism, or improve immunity? What’s the best way to nurture the gut microbiome?
It will take years before answers to these and many other questions emerge — time the U.S. does not have as obesity and diet-related diseases rise at alarming rates. What’s needed right now is a national nutrition science moonshot.
Diet-related conditions are the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. Not only is poor nutrition deadly, it’s expensive: The combined health care spending and lost productivity from suboptimal eating costs the economy $1.1 trillion each year. Obesity alone has far-reaching consequences for the education system, American workplace, and national defense, with 1 in 3 young adults disqualified to serve in the military because of excess weight. Americans who live in rural areas, have lower incomes, or are part of certain racial or ethnic groups often face higher rates of diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, stroke, and heart disease. The combined toll of poor nutrition is astronomical.
The recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health brought together diverse federal agencies, bipartisan congressional leaders, scientists, and individuals from the private sector and advocacy organizations to confront the country’s nutrition problem and identify ambitious, actionable solutions. An independent task force, which we co-chaired, provided recommendations to help inform this process.
The consensus? A resounding call for better research.