Winter 2018

The Wisest Investment You Can Make

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

You’ve probably heard that Americans aren’t saving as much as they used to. At the same time, too many are skimping on perhaps the wisest investment they can make: keeping their bodies healthy through nutrition and physical activity.

I started thinking about nutrition as a personal investment strategy while reading Atul Gawande’s terrific book Being Mortal. Dr. Gawande, a proponent of candid conversations about end-of-life care, writes that “scientific advances have turned the processes of aging and dying into medical experiences, matters to be managed by health-care professionals. And we in the medical world have proved alarmingly unprepared for it.” The population is aging, he notes, yet the number of certified geriatricians has decreased 25 percent in the last 15 years.

My big takeaway from the book is that the medical and research community needs to empower people with information and help them take more responsibility for their health, especially as more people around the world reach the age of 65. The HNRCA’s part in this is to continue providing new discoveries in how nutrition and physical activity can improve quality of life.

We know the HNRCA is making a difference within the research community—we’ve had several guest lecturers inform us about the role our ground-breaking research has played in their work, be it at an Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic in New York or the International Space Station. But with the dire state of geriatric healthcare and the tendency to treat disease rather than encourage health, I’ve become a greater advocate for the HNRCA to find ways to deliver our research directly to those committed to healthy aging.

Let’s heed Dr. Gawande’s cautionary note that “we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology, and strangers” and recognize that we can make an investment in healthy aging through nutrition and physical activity.

Funding Footnote: In the last issue of Tufts Nutrition I wrote that our USDA funding was in peril. I’m happy to report we are still operating, but uncertainty remains about how we will fare when the administration releases its 2019 budget this spring. If there is a bright spot to this challenge, it is that many in the Tufts community have reached out to the decision-makers in Washington to reinforce the importance of the USDA-supported human nutrition centers. Each time I leave Capitol Hill, it is with the feeling that the value of our work transcends party lines and will earn support from Congress.

Sarah Booth, Ph.D.
Interim Director, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging

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