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NIH + Company

NRTF: Nutrition Research Task Force

(more apple, lentil, and Indian gooseberry studies, please)

Turning discovery into health is the tagline of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) which include 27 institutes and centers. The origins of the NIH go back to August of 1897 in Stapleton, New York on Staten Island. A one-room lab was created as part of the Marine Hospital Service (MHS), which later became the US Public Health Service (PHS). The MHS had been established in 1798 to provide care to merchant seamen.

Today, the NIH is a component of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), responsible for developing the MyPlate Dietary Guidelines every five years, with the most recent from 2020 to 2025. The NIH is the primary federal agency in the US which conducts and supports "basic, clinical, and translational medical research, while investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases." In 2020, the NIH released a 2020-2030 plan in coordination with a new wing of the NIH, the NRTF - Nutrition Research Task Force. They've set out to answer four fundamental questions about nutrition and health (excerpted from the NIH news release 5.27.20):

What do we eat and how does it affect us?
(to spur discovery and innovation through foundational research)

What and when should we eat?
(investigate the role of dietary patterns and behaviors for optimal health)


How does what we eat promote health across our lifespan?
(define the role of nutrition across the lifespan)

How can we improve the use of food as medicine?
(reduce the burden of disease in clinical settings)

For the first time in the US, "food as medicine" is taking a center stage at an influential institution, and adding a nutrition-based task force is a positive step (the NTRF was created in 2016). On the flip side, frustration sets in as I absorb the four questions above. Why are these elementary-level inquiries being asked, after over a century of research has pointed to obvious, cause and effect connections between eating plants and health? Have researchers at the NIH and NRTF never read a study on the benefits of, say, apples on our immune system for example? Baby steps are taken with taxpayer money, the NIH doesn't have a significant enough impact on our health, and still... Americans are among some of the sickest humans on Earth.

They say, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Yet if the horse's mouth is foaming and it's eyes are yellow, do we say nothing?

I sense that brilliant and well-intentioned scientists and policy makers are trying to help, and the NRTF is a welcome addition to the NIH family. The point here? Cookhouse Heroes need to continue telling the sometimes brutal truth about the complexities and hypocrisies of healthcare and public institutions. That said, a genuine thank you to the NIH for their funding, new nutrition task force, and robust efforts. Perhaps it's time for more apple, lentil, and Indian gooseberry studies? Yes, indeed it is. 

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