The Future of Human Nutritional Research in the US Government

Nutrition For Fitness

Earlier this month, several agencies within the federal government worked together to create the first ever National Roadmap for Nutrition Research. The Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research (ICHNR) released guidelines on the needs of the different agencies involved and will encourage future research to promote health and decrease chronic illnesses associated with obesity and diabetes and heart health. The National Roadmap for Human Nutritional Research

Created in 1983, the ICHNR was charged with improving the planning, coordination, and communication among federal agencies engaged in nutrition research and with facilitating the development and updating of plans for federal research programs to meet current and future domestic and international needs for nutrition. Early in 2013, the ICHNR recognized the need for a written strategic plan to identify critical human nutrition research gaps and opportunities that could be addressed over the next five to ten years.

From the co-chairs of the ICHNR: Catherine Woteki and Karen DeSalvo

"Nutritional needs differ according to a number of factors, including an individual's age, their health status and their level of physical activity," said Woteki, Ph.D., M.S., USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist. "Those needs can be tailored according to personal preferences, enabling each person to choose the foods that are right for them. The priorities outlined in the Roadmap will help us identify knowledge gaps and research opportunities that can help consumers make healthy choices."

"Healthy eating is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce the onset of chronic diseases related to nutrition like obesity, heart disease and diabetes," said DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc., HHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Health. "By focusing, in part, on developing a better understanding of the gaps in the evidence for healthier eating, the Roadmap will help provide an evidence base for supporting easy, accessible, and affordable healthy food choices."

About Department of Defense Interests

In addition to promoting eating patterns for improving health and preventing disease, the DoD is interested in the concept of human performance optimization (HPO) and how eating patterns and various nutrients contribute to performance and resilience. A focus on performance rather than health is critical, given most service members are young, which the DoD has found means health is a low priority since they tend to view themselves as invincible. At the same time, the DoD has found young service members want to perform at their peak. The DoD has also determined a focus on performance is more effective at gaining the interest and cooperation of service members.

The DoD is Interested in the Following Questions

  • What are the nutritional needs and most effective feeding approaches for those engaged in strenuous physical activity under a wide range of environmental exposures—from very hot to very cold and from hypo- to hyperbaric conditions?
  • Would the provision of specific antioxidants or other bioactive ingredients counter the effects of prolonged 100-percent oxygen exposure of divers?
  • Are there any bioactive ingredients that might protect against heat or cold stress?
  • Are there particular eating patterns or ingredients that could extend performance by increasing the oxidation of fatty acids as a fuel source?

In regard to performance, the DoD researchers are currently investigating the relationship between nutritional status and military health and readiness across a broad spectrum of the population—from the very healthy to those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI)—but robust nutritional assessments are not typical in a clinical setting.

Other Questions DoD is Interested in Answering Include

  • Do nutrition and eating patterns serve important roles in recovery from military-related health disorders (e.g., amputation, PTSD, TBI)?
  • Do service members who have undergone a limb amputation have different nutritional needs than an able-bodied person?

In addition, the DoD is always considering how individual differences in nutritional status might impact both physical and cognitive performance. Efforts are also underway to understand whether garrison (on base feeding facilities) and deployment feeding requirements differ from those at home in order to optimize ration components and ensure adequate dietary intakes during deployments.

For example, which diet—a high-fat or very low-fat diet—is most effective in promoting healthy physical and cognitive function? Also, does the percentage of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet contribute to readiness and performance or protect against TBI? Do various antioxidants or other bioactive ingredients have a beneficial impact on cognition and performance?

These questions remain to be answered and are of interest to the DoD. Opportunities for collaboration are wide open. Finally, Military Dietary Reference Intakes (MDRIs) are always revised to reflect the current state of science. Researchers within the DoD are always interested in forming partnerships to collaborate with sister agencies to address research gaps and opportunities in these areas.

The agencies and departments involved are the following: United States Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  United States Department of Defense United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pesticide Programs  Federal Trade Commission  United States Department of Health and Human Services  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  Food and Drug Administration  Health Resources and Services Administration The National Institutes of Health National Aeronautics and Space Administration United States Agency for International Development  United States Department of Agriculture  Agricultural Research Service Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion  Economic Research Service Food and Nutrition Service National Institute of Food and Agriculture  United States Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Health Administration 

Citation:  Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research. National Nutrition Research Roadmap 2016‒2021: Advancing Nutrition Research to Improve and Sustain Health. Washington, DC: Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research; 2016. vii United States Department of Health and Human Services, continued Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP)

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