Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) annual conference in Boston, MA. ASN is dedicated to bringing together the world’s top researchers and clinicians to advance our knowledge and application of nutrition science. The session topics were wide-ranging, from the impact of prenatal exposures on future offspring health outcomes to personalized (or “precision”) nutrition and efforts to normalize the use of food as medicine.
Below are a few of the educational highlights from my time in Boston:
Food is Medicine
More U.S. adults are sick than are healthy – 1 in 2 have diabetes or pre-diabetes, 3 in 4 have overweight or obesity and only 1 in 15 (6.8%) are metabolically healthy.1 Poor nutrition is a major contributor to these dismal statistics, causing 21,000 new cases of diabetes each week and 45% of all cardiometabolic deaths.1 Tufts University is calling this a national nutrition crisis, with a food system not only causing poor health, but also contributing to rising healthcare costs, diminished economic competitiveness of American business, reduced military readiness, and hunger and disparities.
Tuft University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy is collaborating with Congressional leaders, advocacy partners, and other key stakeholders on a bipartisan Food is Medicine initiative. The initiative will bring to the forefront the impact that food has on national well-being, and will use advances in science and technology to inform priorities and impactful solutions. The initiative will touch many key areas, including public health and education, government nutrition programs, business innovation, science and research, and the healthcare system. This conference session was focused on the Food is Medicine solutions in the healthcare space.
Within healthcare, Food is Medicine focuses nutrition efforts on both prevention and treatment. For prevention, solutions include implementing electronic health record standards (e.g., nutrition vital signs, nutrition annual physical), improvements to nutrition security programs (e.g., school meals), and enhancing nutrition education for physicians. For treatment, solutions include healthy food prescriptions covered by insurance, medically tailored meals and groceries, and produce prescription programs.
To learn more, visit the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy’s website here.
Teens and Nutrient Deficiencies
There is a growing public health crisis surrounding adequate nutrition in teenagers. The gap between dietary recommendations and current intakes is largest for those ages 14 through 18.2 Given that this is a period of rapid growth and development, these nutritional inadequacies put teenagers at risk for both short- and long-term health consequences, such as slowed growth and maturation, iron deficiency, poor school performance, and low bone density.
The dietary choices of teens are influenced by a multitude of factors, including a desire for autonomy (make independent decisions) and agency (act on independent decisions), peers, advertising, social media, and unprecedented stress and anxiety. This can make it challenging for parents to support healthy dietary choices in their teens.
Experts proposed to involve teens in strategies to promote better dietary choices. They also found that strategies that involved technology to guide dietary choices and help set goals were most helpful in promoting healthy dietary changes. Lastly, they highlighted that animal source foods (e.g., dairy, eggs, fish, lean meats) and dark leafy greens are the top sources of nutrients that are commonly lacking in teen diets.
Precision nutrition, also sometimes referred to as personalized nutrition, is the idea that strategies to prevent and treat diseases can be more accurate and targeted using one’s genetics, race, gender, health history and lifestyle habits. While scientific research can suggest what dietary patterns may be health-promoting for communities or populations, precision nutrition accounts for differences in response to specific foods and nutrients across individuals. For example, high salt intake may not increase everyone’s risk for developing high blood pressure equally, with some individuals being more salt-sensitive than others.
Precision nutrition also considers the microbiome, the trillions of bacteria that live in our digestive tract and play a key role in our health. The types and quantities of bacteria are unique to each individual – our diet plays a role in what bacteria occupy our digestive tract, and the types of bacteria in our digestive tract also determine how we break down certain foods and which foods are most beneficial for our bodies.
Last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, awarded $170 million dollars for a precision nutrition study – the largest of its kind – powered by the All of Us Research Program. The Nutrition for Precision Health (NPH) study will enroll over 10,000 participants across 14 U.S. sites to learn more about how our bodies respond differently to food. It will use artificial intelligence to develop algorithms that predict responses to dietary patterns, with the goal of allowing healthcare providers to one day offer more customized nutritional guidance to improve health and prevent disease.
To learn more about NPH, view the NIH’s news release here and the official NPH website here, and to learn more about the All of Us Research Program, click here.
SFG’s Physical Capital
Nutrition is a key part to supporting your physical capital. As SFG’s Physical Capital Resource Manager, I am available to provide evidence-based answers to your nutrition and health questions, and point you in the direction of trustworthy information in the midst of an era of nutrition misinformation. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].
Mozaffarian, D. (2023, July 22-25). Food Is Medicine [Conference presentation]. ASN Nutrition 2023 Conference, Boston, MA, United States.
Leidy, H. (2023, July 22-25). Teens and Nutrient Deficiencies: A Growing Public Health Crisis [Conference presentation]. ASN Nutrition 2023 Conference, Boston, MA, United States.