Getting Our Priorities Straight

Getting Our Priorities Straight

The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, is creating a much-needed prioritized research agenda for the global nutrition science community.

When The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences was founded in 2010, we started out with three goals: 1) advancing nutrition science research and knowledge, 2) mobilizing communities, and 3) applying the research in improving nutrition programming in the field. Almost two years later, we have made significant progress toward the first two of those goals, and are expanding our efforts in addressing the third.

How have we approached these goals thus far? Many organizations are already performing cutting-edge research to understand the physiological basis of nutrition-related problems, designing behavioral interventions, and working to advance policy. When you consider that more than 2 billion people are affected by malnutrition (which includes both under- and over-nutrition), it is clear that all of these efforts are desperately needed, and much more.

Could these efforts be made more effective through coordination? We, along with many stakeholders across functional and geographic sectors, believe the answer is yes (and therein lays The Sackler Institute's approach). We believe that a multi-stakeholder process to develop and reach consensus towards a global research agenda would be the most impactful form of coordination among the global nutrition science community.

Such an agenda would clearly delineate gap areas where more research and funding is needed—identifying those research areas that will lead to important gains in knowledge and could ultimately translate into the design and implementation of better nutrition interventions. Furthermore, a prioritized research agenda would be crafted and vetted by a large group of interdisciplinary and multi-sector stakeholders, thereby enhancing the probability that the agenda would lead to activation of recommended research, as well as public policy changes.

The Sackler Institute, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), has taken up this very task, relying on a steering committee of global nutrition experts to guide these efforts. As a starting point, a panel of independent experts from the non-profit and academic sector identified three broad focus areas for further inquiry: 1) environmental and societal trends affecting food and nutrition among vulnerable populations, 2) unsolved issues of nutrition in the lifecycle, and 3) delivery of nutrition interventions and the associated operational gaps.

Working groups were then assigned to each focus area and these groups created a list of approximately 25 issues of interest and critical gaps in knowledge that fall under the broad focus areas. In June, these issues of interest will be made available as part of a public comment period to ensure that nutrition science professionals from diverse sectors, fields of study, and geographical areas have the opportunity to contribute to the agenda-setting process.

During the next stage, working group members will refine these topics, extracting the most relevant ones for in-depth explorations of knowledge gaps. A second public comment period will allow for additional input. With this input, the working groups will create the strategic research agenda and formally present it to the WHO. The Sackler Institute and WHO will then begin the process of dissemination, including publishing the research agenda in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, and activation of the agenda by facilitating the development of action plans by various sectors, and forming public-private alliances to address research gap areas.

To find out more about the Sackler Institute's recent and upcoming activities, including conferences and publications, visit

Mandana Arabi is the founding director of The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences.