Does the U.S. Government Contribute to an Increasingly Sick and Overweight Population?

Does the U.S. Government Contribute to an Increasingly Sick and Overweight Population?

POLITICO thinks possibly so. The logic: because food and nutrition is inexorably intertwined with health, the argument goes that the feds—via the National Institutes of Health or NIH and Department of Agriculture—should be investing in nutrition research, which today is significantly underfunded.

The Obesity Crisis

TrialSite News put forth the position that America is in trouble due to its obesity crisis—that up to 90 million are overweight and consequent comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes and NASH, arthritis, heart disease, cancer chronic back problems—to name a few, will only increase with age and time. It is so bad, we have observed, that in many cases there will have to be a pharmaceutical company answer to maintain those that cannot be brought back to normal weights. And, of course, all of this contributes to skyrocketing healthcare costs—American debt’s biggest contributor is lifestyle health-related indications.  POLITICO includes a figure of $147 billion per annum and growing.  This escalating cost grows debt and inflates healthcare costs for us all.

What Obesity Crisis?

POLITICO scribes Catherine Bourdeau and Helena Bottemiller Evich point out that the federal government via NIH and the Agriculture Department nominally spend to investigation the connections, correlations and consequences of nutrition and health—quite important stuff most would think. After all, huge swathes of America are health conscious, mindful of diet and appearance and desirous of a good healthy life.

In the case of NIH Bourdeau and Bottemiller Evich, they educate us that NIH spent 5% of its total research budget in 2018 on nutrition; USDA Agriculture Research Service spent $88 million or 7% of its budget on human nutrition—the same levels as 1983 when factoring inflation. The NIH proposed closing its only nutrition-related facility earlier in the year POLITICO reports—sufficient amounts of pushback have at least delayed this unfortunate impulse. Moreover, specialized research center grants that could contribute to nutrition research have been “whittled down” to almost nothing.

No National Strategy

The takeaway from the POLITCO report—the nation lacks a coherent, meaningful and actionable nutrition research strategy and of course there isn’t robust coordination among agencies to improve the current situation.  The NIH positions that it actually has increased funding for nutrition research. However, thanks to good investigative reporting, POLITICO reveals actual spend as percentage of research budget wanes.

Nutrition Research was Hot back in 19th & 20th Centuries

There was a time in America when nutrition research was a hot topic, funded accordingly, and packed with some of the smartest researchers and scientists. Vitamin deficiencies such as pellagra, rickets and scurvy were largely eradicated. But there is no lobby or political force to boost spending again to address the severe health care situation faced from too much unhealthy food and too less exercise. 

Food Industry Studies Fill in a Void

POLITICO suggests the vacuum is often filled by food industry studies while infighting of the nutrition community centers on the old arguments of what is “public health enemy No. 1” e.g. processed carbs, sugar, etc. A lack of a nutrition research agenda leads to a fragmented, market free for all where no one is sure exactly what to do because there are so many different nutritional points of view, fads and trends. This of course represents a great opportunity for enterprising entrepreneurs to “monetize” the situation.

Nutrition Research isn’t Easy

POLITCO points out that using the research gold standard, the random controlled trials to determine nutritional connections works better for drugs than for nutrition studies. For instance, humans don’t eat the same thing every day for weeks, months, even years. It would be quite cumbersome and expensive to pull of clinical trials for nutrition.  Consequently, observational studies are counted upon to progress our knowledge—more economical but less rigorous. Many critics believe the current nutritional research (including detailed epidemiological studies) need a complete reboot.

Concluding Thoughts

For anyone interested in a brief overview and history of nutrition research in the U.S. click through to the source link to read this timely article. The magnitude of the problem merits more attention—study and critical contemplation—and vigorous debate. The answer is understood by many if not most—a healthy lifestyle (e.g. healthy meals, weekly exercise and avoidance of unhealthy activities–e.g. lots of alcohol, sugars, tons of red meat, etc.) over time leads to far better health outcomes. And better health outcomes leads, all things being equal, to lower costs.  

The POLITICO piece didn’t delve into the deep and profound socioeconomic indicators associated with severe nutritional issues nor were the the social determinants of health factored into the analysis. Just being born into a certain zip code in America can statistically correlate to a higher probability that that individual will experience obesity. These social determinants of health raise uncomfortable subjects for many, in a “politically correct” society.  The data is there for powerful analysis and understanding pointing toward significant conclusive evidence as to what to do next. Nutritional incentivization must be infused into health plans whether private or public—where the obesity epidemic is raging, perhaps even perceived entitlements must include positive conditional behavioral commitments. We must accomplish a health “turnaround” in this country powered by a pervasive and ubiquitous healthy lifestyle expectation. With freedom comes responsibility.

Call to Action: Health is the number one important issue for us all. Without it, we have nothing else. All the money in the world can’t change that fact. Our health must be the nexus of political transformation that liberates capital, talent and culture to undertake exciting transformations in the decades to come. Think about it.