Confronting Malnutrition With Science

Confronting Malnutrition With Science

The Academy strengthens its portfolio to tackle a worldwide crisis.

More than three billion people worldwide are affected by malnutrition. With undernutrition as well as overnutrition contributing to cognitive and developmental challenges, illness, increased disease susceptibility, reduced productivity, and lower life expectancy, the New York Academy of Sciences this year began to explore how best it can contribute to addressing this global crisis.

"While many public health and scientific organizations around the world have made nutrition a priority, we didn't want to replicate existing efforts," says New York Academy of Sciences President Ellis Rubinstein. "We wanted to find the niche where we could make a significant and important contribution."

To identify that niche, Academy team members and Humanitas Global Development, a Washington-based international development agency advising the Academy on global nutrition issues, analyzed dozens of recent papers, reports, and articles on the subject and conducted more than 45 interviews with leaders in government, academic research, corporate science, and nutrition and health advocacy.

Their investigation uncovered an urgent need for a single, unified nutrition science research agenda that could guide scientists and funders worldwide as they look for ways to effectively address global nutrition problems.

"Feedback from stakeholders across sectors told us that what the nutrition field really needs is a hard-core scientific voice," says Rubinstein, "and that we are the organization that can insert science into the global conversation about nutrition."

To formulate the agenda, the Academy will work with partners including the World Health Organization, which is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. In consultation with the WHO, the Academy will convene an advisory group comprised of domestic and international leaders, develop a series of expert panels to design individual roadmaps for key areas of the agenda, and create and foster a live and virtual nutrition science research community made up of academic researchers, industry scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, government actors, and non-governmental organization leaders. The desired outcome is a long-term, multi-sectoral action plan to tackle nutrition science challenges.

Academy Vice President and Scientific Director Stacie Bloom says, "The WHO's experience providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health agenda, and monitoring and assessing health trends, combined with the Academy's experience convening world experts and engendering research communities makes this a perfect collaboration to achieve this goal."

But the Academy wants to do more than develop a document to guide scientific research, Bloom says. Fortunately, its track record puts it in an ideal position to do so. The Academy will tap its vast network to see that, once formulated, the nutrition science research agenda is implemented across disciplines and sectors, ensuring a focused approach to conducting nutrition science research, providing evidence that will shape policy, and incorporating scientific implications for in-field nutrition interventions.

To achieve that second part of the initiative's mission, the Academy will leverage its existing Science Alliance, Scientists Without Borders, Frontiers of Science, and Science & the City programs to host conferences, workshops, and public events that stem from the agenda as well as other national and international themes in nutrition. The Academy will utilize its multiple strengths in scientific publishing—eBriefings, podcasts, and The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences—to broadly disseminate scientific content and calls-to-action to the world's leaders in nutrition.

Bloom says there will be a sharp focus on identifying basic monitoring and evaluation standards in nutrition science research. And, most importantly, to ensure that research results are translated into action, the Academy's team and advisers will track the ways they are applied in the field.

"Our 200-year history of success convening constituents from across sectors and disciplines makes us an ideal candidate for bringing nutrition experts together into an energized and focused community," says Rubinstein, "and the Academy's new Scientists Without Borders platform (see "Addressing Global Nutrition Needs with Open Innovation," below) is the perfect vehicle for driving the nutrition research priorities that this community will identify."

Ultimately, Rubinstein says the Academy's efforts—both on its own and in alliance with the World Health Organization—will result in a coordinated network across sectors, disciplines, and geographies that promotes open communication, encourages exchange of information and resources, nurtures the next generation of scientists, and fosters a spirit of cooperation in nutrition science research.

Nabeeha M. Kazi, managing director of Humanitas Global Development, says: "It's evident that the Academy can play a powerful and unique role in the global malnutrition arena by leveraging its expertise in tackling emerging issues, collaborating with leaders across sectors, and applying scientific evidence in the field to change lives."

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Addressing Global Nutrition Needs with Open Innovation

Scientists Without Borders, a public-private partnership conceived by the Academy in conjunction with the United Nations Millennium Project, recently unveiled a new web platform that is designed to harness the global power of science and technology to address development issues such as hunger and malnutrition in the least developed parts of the world.

Scientists Without BordersScientists Without Borders' Executive Director, Shaifali Puri, says the novel tools provide dynamic and meaningful ways for passionate problem-solvers from all sectors, disciplines, and geographies to engage their expertise, connect with others similarly interested, and exchange resources and knowledge to improve the quality of life for the world's poorest people.

"Our new design will enable users to forge cross-cutting collaborations and knowledge sharing to accelerate their progress," says Puri. "The platform leverages technological connectivity to promote open innovation and transparency so that solutions, information, and capacity can be accessed and sustainably deployed wherever needed."

On the Scientists Without Borders platform, scientists and other contributors may create profiles to present their expertise, interests, resources, and relevant work to a global network. Through the site, they can find people working geographically nearby or interact with people across the globe, in other sectors and other disciplines, who are working on similar challenges.

Problem-solvers may collaborate to address and refine solutions to challenges posted on the Scientists Without Borders site. Or they may use the Scientists Without Borders Exchange to list needs they have and resources that are available, or to post specific challenges and benefit from the diverse insights of a global network of solvers to achieve high-impact solutions. The Scientists Without Borders platform will also enable groups to jointly issue significant challenges with incentive prizes in areas of critical need, and to convene world-class experts to independently frame the challenges and select winning submissions. For more, see www.scientistswithoutborders.org.

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Academy Nutrition Content

Academy programs and publications have long been addressing topics of nutrition and food sciences. While you can expect to see an expansion in the nutrition science related content coming from the Academy soon, here's a sampling of existing resources in nutrition available from the Academy already.

More than a Yogurt Cup
A Science & the City podcast delves into the world of prebiotic and probiotic science with conversations with experts who spoke at a June 2010 Academy conference, Probiotics: From Bench to Market, presented jointly with Dannon.

Foods for Health in the 21st Century: A Roadmap for the Future
Volume 1190 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published in March 2010, edited by M. Eric Gershwin and M. R. C. Greenwood, University of California at Davis.

What to Eat: Diet, Nutrition, and Food Politics
A podcast of a presentation by Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, given at a February 2010 Science & the City event at the Academy.

The Science of Sushi
A January 2010 Science & the City podcast interview with Danish biophysicist Ole Mouritsen, who happens to be an expert on sushi and author of the book Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body, and the Soul.

Antioxidant Science
A November 2009 Science & the City podcast of a conversation with two scientists who spoke at the Academy conference on oxidative/nitrosative stress and disease about whether antioxidants have superpowers.

Collaborative Health Care for Older Adults: Uniting Medicine and Dentistry
An eBriefing of an October 2009 meeting presented by Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, Oral Health America, and the New York Academy of Sciences featuring a keynote by Marie Bernard, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging.

Shortening the Food Chain: Farming in the City
A September 2009 eBriefing from an Academy meeting presented by the Green Science & Environmental Policy Discussion Group and the Environmental Sciences Section about sustainable urban agriculture.

Type 2 Diabetes Disparities in Ethnic Minorities: Origin, Challenges, and Solutions
An eBriefing of a September 2009 meeting presented by the Academy's Diabetes & Obesity Discussion Group, organized by Mary Ann Banerji, professor of medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Improving Pediatric Health: Biobehavioral Approaches to Childhood Disease Management
An eBriefing of a May 2009 meeting presented by the New York Academy of Sciences, Children's Dental Health Project, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, and the Global Children's Dental Health Task Force.

Nutrient Sensing: How the Brain and Gut Regulate Food Intake
An eBriefing from the February 2009 meeting hosted by the Academy's Diabetes & Obesity Discussion Group.

The Work Ahead of Us: Public Health and Human Rights
An eBriefing of a December 2008 meeting presented by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Reducing the Impact of Poverty on Health and Human Development: Scientific Approaches
Volume 1136 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, published in June 2008, edited by Stephen G. Kaler and Owen M. Rennert, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, Bethesda, MD.

The Year in Diabetes and Obesity
Volume 1212 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, published in November 2010, edited by Alvin C. Powers, Vanderbilt Diabetes Center, and Rexford S. Ahima, University of Pennsylvania.

Probiotics meeting report
Volume 1212 S1 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, published in November 2010, edited by Edited by Marguerite Klein, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Mary Ellen Sanders, Dairy and Food Culture Technologies, Tri Duong, Texas A&M University, and Howard A. Young, National Cancer Institute.

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Convening on Nutrition

Sign up now for these nutrition-related events coming up at the Academy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010; 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Super-Sized World: The Global Obesity Epidemic
This conference, presented by the Academy with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will convene leading obesity researchers to explore the latest science and policy initiatives for this health crisis both globally and here in the United States.

January 26, 2011; 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
You Are What You Eat: The Long History of Knowing about Our Food, Our Bodies, and Ourselves
At this Science & the City public event, Harvard science historian Steven Shapin speaks on the history of dietetics.