Summer 2016

Washington Takes Note

A message from the director of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging

100915_3552_KMA_HNRCA718.jpgThe connection between nutrition and good health has been known since ancient Greek times, when Hippocrates declared, “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” Still, even after more than two millennia, we’re continuing to promote nutrition as the path to preventing many health risks that threaten vitality as we age.

The movement to recognize nutritional well-being as a public health issue has been making progress with policymakers at the national level. In March, a multiagency committee, led by the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, released the National Nutrition Research Roadmap, a blueprint that will guide federal spending on human nutrition research for the next five years. The roadmap specifically cites the need to consider certain at-risk groups, including older adults. The scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts read the report with great enthusiasm, as our research agenda is well represented in the 166-page document.

More recently, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., reinforced the mission of the HNRCA by adding this language to the fiscal year 2017 Agriculture Appropriations Bill: “Food and nutrition play a central role in U.S. health, environment and economic development. In fact, diet-related disease has become America’s largest single cause of premature death and disability. More research is needed to address the needs of all Americans, with a particular focus on the elderly, the fastest growing segment of the population. Therefore, the Agricultural Research Service is encouraged to prioritize human nutrition research to explore the relationship between nutrition, physical activity and healthy and active aging.”

Similar language is being promoted in the House by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who sponsored an educational event on Capitol Hill this spring for the HNRCA to present the redesigned MyPlate for Older Adults to policymakers (see page 21). Following the event, Rep. McGovern gave a speech in Congress that focused on the problem of “hidden malnutrition” among older adults.

While I’m pleased that policymakers are recognizing the importance of nutrition, what matters most is what happens at the household level. Translating our research for individual use is important to all of us at the Friedman School and the HNRCA, and I’m hopeful that the information we share helps elevate the importance of nutrition to the vitality of older adults.

Simin Nikbin Meydani, D.V.M., Ph.D.

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