Interrelationships of food, nutrition, diet and health:

The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges

White Paper.Bidlack WR1.



Nutrition and food science have each enhanced the development of an abundant, nutritious, safe food supply. A healthy diet should contain all of the required nutrients and sufficient calories to balance energy expenditure and provide for growth and maintenance throughout the life cycle. Importantly, dietary factors are associated with 5 of the 10 leading causes of death, including coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and atherosclerosis.


National health care expenditures for 1990 totaled $666 billion of which 30% are related to inappropriate diet. Identification of external factors that contribute to premature death would aid preventive efforts, improve the quality of life, and reduce health care costs. Even though genetic predisposition increases susceptible people's risk for many of these chronic diseases, these conditions may be diminished or prevented by improvements in the American diet.


Each stage of the life cycle has specific nutrient needs. Throughout infancy, childhood and adolescence nutrients are required to meet the growth processes as well as cognitive function. During pregnancy nutrients are required for both mother and developing infant needs. Adult nutrition focuses on tissue maintenance, nutrient and energy needs, and disease prevention. As the population of elderly increase in number and greater age, nutritional needs must be met to minimize certain disease states and assure the quality of life.


Nutrition associated health risks have been identified for coronary heart disease, cancer and diabetes mellitus. Recommendations for each includes a decrease in dietary fat, awareness of caloric intake and enhancement of nutrient density including an increase in fruit and vegetables. These recommendations also impact obesity and diminish the compounding of other disease states affected by excessive body weight. Calcium intake at early ages affects development of bone density and manifestation of osteoporosis.


Current gaps in knowledge are also identified that could improve health. Numerous nutrients are being examined for their regulation of specific gene expressions and in the processes of transcription and translation. To offer food products with greater nutrient density or improved functional health ingredients, modification of existing foods is needed to assure an improved diet.


Policies to improve health require integration of nutrition needs with economic growth and development, agriculture and food production, processing, marketing, health care and education, and includes changing lifestyles and food choices. Increased research support is required to achieve national health goals with emphasis on nutrition and food sciences. Education methods must be improved to better inform consumers, to encourage food producers and manufacturers to produce healthier foods, to assure training of future professionals and to provide legislators with the basis to make informed decisions.

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