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OPINIONWellness

Federal Nutrition Research is Underfunded, Report Says

Obesity costs the U.S. about $147 billion annually

The Lempert Report

An excellent article in Politico spotlights an increasingly health-conscious America in which the federal government has devoted only a tiny fraction of its research dollars to nutrition.

Helena Bottemiller Evich and Catherine Boudreau have published a rightfully scathing piece on Politico that points a shaming finger at the federal government.

Diet-related illnesses such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are on the rise, while heart disease remains the leading cause of death. And in an increasingly health-conscious America, the federal government has devoted only a tiny fraction of its research dollars to nutrition, a level that has not kept pace with the worsening crisis of diet-related diseases, Evich and Boudreau point out.  

A review of federal budget documents revealed that at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the two agencies that fund the majority of government-backed nutrition science—the share of research dollars devoted to nutrition has stayed largely flat for at least three decades, and pales in comparison to many other areas of research.

In 2018, the NIH invested $1.8 billion in nutrition research, or just under 5% of its total budget. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service devoted $88 million, or a little more than 7% of its overall budget, to human nutrition, the same level as in 1983 when adjusted for inflation. 

“In so many areas [of science], things get better over time,” Jerold Mande, a professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Massachusetts, who worked at the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during Democratic administrations, told Politico, “But nutrition has gotten so much worse.”

According to the column, today’s diet crisis is one of excess, and it is costing us dearly: Obesity alone costs about $147 billion annually, and hypertension costs an estimated $131 billion a year. And, sadly, there is no major lobbying force behind boosting nutrition research funding.  

In 2018, the NIH funding for cancer, which affects about 9% of the population, was $6.3 billion. Funding for obesity, which affects about 30% of the country, was about $1 billion.

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