Report: changes needed to better health, fight obesity

The report from accross the United States parallels recent University actions to make the world healthier.

by Emily Ayshford

Major lifestyle, diet and farm subsidization changes are needed to help better the United States’ health and fight rising obesity percentages, according to a recent report.

The National Academies’ National Research Council report that highlights a June workshop of scientists, administrators and agricultural professionals from across the United States parallels recent University actions to make the world healthier.

Charles Muscoplat, College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences dean, participated in the food and health workshop from which the report stemmed.

Muscoplat said the University is unique because it incorporates agriculture, human ecology and health studies in one location, creating an interdisciplinary food and health study.

“We really are one of a kind,” he said. “We need to have the people thinking about it from an interdisciplinary standpoint.”

Muscoplat said the University has held meetings to discuss the problem in recent years, and he and University President Bob Bruininks have discussed it for several years.

Bruininks announced his initiative for “Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives” in his State of the University address last fall. The initiative incorporates College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, the College of Human Ecology,

the School of Public Health and the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Mindy Kurzer, interim assistant head of the food science and nutrition department, said a November 2004 conference will be the first concrete project addressing the initiative.

The conference will include speakers presenting their approaches to health problems, as well as a workshop with University members, legislators and officials from food companies to help determine possible solutions.

“The outcome will hopefully be an action plan that we can present to the deans and the president,” Kurzer said.

Muscoplat said a faculty advisory council from the four colleges was recently created to research likely solutions to food and health problems.

“The problem has to be chopped up in pieces,” he said.

Muscoplat said many U.S. health problems – such as heart disease – are caused by obesity, which affects 20 percent of the U.S. population. He said jokingly that obesity is a “food-born illness.”

He also said farm subsidization practices need to be changed so farmers are subsidized for producing healthy foods.

But Kurzer said changing society’s eating habits is a difficult task.

“We can do a huge amount of basic research into biology and chemistry,” she said. “But those data will have no impact if people don’t consume the food.”

Muscoplat said the initiative will eventually create requests for research funding from the Legislature and the University will continue to work on the initiative for the next five to 10 years.