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Patrons of Global Health

Patrons of Global Health

A gift from The Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation, Inc., will enable the Academy to pursue advances in the crucial area of nutrition science.

Siblings Mortimer D.A. Sackler and Kathe A. Sackler, MD spoke with magazine contributor Adam Ludwig about the founding gift made by The Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation, Inc., to establish The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences.

How did you first become interested in issues surrounding nutrition?

Kathe: As a physician, I have always been convinced that millions of infants, children, and adults in the world suffer and die from diseases that can be prevented by access to proper nutrition, clean water, and hygiene. My passion about this problem grows out of my fundamental belief that there are adequate resources for every human being in the world to have basic nutrition, water, and shelter if we take this on as a critical global priority.

Mortimer: After turning 30, I noticed it became harder and harder to stay in shape. I sought the advice of a nutritionist, who made me focus on the sources and quality of the food I was eating. Through that process I began focusing on the food other people were eating, and how poorly regulated food in this country is. I know how risk-averse the FDA is in regulating drugs, but why is it seemingly so lax about our country's food supply and what it allows to be packaged and sold to the population? This question led me to realize that governments have always had a single-purpose mission when it comes to food policy and regulation: How to make more and cheaper food? We have been very successful in producing much more food from the same amount of land, but did we actually make food cheaper, or simply shift the cost to a different area: healthcare?

How were you involved in partnering with NYAS to develop the Sackler Institute?

Mortimer: In early 2009, my father received a call from NYAS to meet and discuss a joint initiative. The team at the Academy presented a nutrition initiative, and we developed their concept into the program for the Sackler Institute. When I presented the idea to the family, it quickly won broad approval, and Kathe and our sister Ilene Sackler Lefcourt became involved in defining the creation of the Sackler Institute and its founding gift agreement.

How do you think the Sackler Institute will make an impact in finding solutions to health issues related to nutrition?

Mortimer: By bringing together some of the brightest people in the field of nutrition science and having them define the five or six most important questions in the field, and then having them tackle each question and put out challenge grants, fund research, write papers, and ultimately drive change in public policy, the Sackler Institute can make an impact that will improve people's health as it relates to nutrition and diet.

Kathe: The recipe here is to cross-motivate experts in differing fields, all of which speak to issues of nutrition science, and to challenge and support these groups to figure out the critical achievable goals that will make a positive difference. Experts across science, social policy, political action, health care, communications, and media will integrate new experiential knowledge into their work to bring about positive change.

What are your thoughts about the ironies of confronting scarcity in developing countries while addressing problems such as obesity in industrialized countries?

Mortimer: The biggest irony is that it isn't "overabundance" that is causing the obesity epidemic, but rather a form of scarcity. Both under-nutrition and obesity are caused by people not getting enough of the right nutrients in their diets. The food we have created, subsidized, and sold to the U.S. consumer may be cheap and plentiful, but it is also extremely nutrient-light. Is it any surprise that consumers eat more and more of it? Their bodies aren't getting the nutrients needed to satiate them. The worst thing we could do for developing countries is to provide them with the misguided nutrition policies, food guidelines, and products that have led to obesity here.

What is your hope for the impact of the Sackler Institute in the next ten years?

Kathe: The Institute will generate new discoveries about the nutritional and metabolic aspects of particular diseases and encourage self-sustaining farming, supported by clean water, in areas with food shortages and few resources. It will also spur better general education for children about healthy dietary choices, along with improved nutrition science curricula in postgraduate healthcare training.What has been your greatest source of inspiration in becoming involved with efforts to improve diet and nutrition on a global scale?

Mortimer: My children. By far having kids, as cliché as it sounds, changed my life and my view on the world. It is because of them that I hope that the Sackler Institute will make a difference.

Adam Ludwig is a writer in New York City.