In response to the skyrocketing prevalence of obesity and diabetes in the United States today and the estimated $150 billion in related health care expenditures, a consortium of respected clinicians and scientists from the fields of endocrinology, metabolism, diabetes, obesity and nutrition launched a new nonprofit organization to finally, and with scientific certainty, answer the question: What should we eat to be healthy?
The Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) is dedicated to dramatically reducing the economic and social burden of obesity and obesity-related diseases by significantly improving nutrition science. NuSI seeks to unambiguously clarify the relationship between diet and obesity and its related diseases as a result of a growing acceptance that nutrition science is—and historically has been—significantly substandard as compared to other scientific disciplines such as chemistry, biology or physics.
"The question of the right diet has seemingly been settled in the public for years, yet obesity rates continue to rise. This contradiction begs the question: Do we really have good science to support our dietary recommendations? The answer is convincingly no," says Kevin Schulman, MD, professor of medicine and business administration and director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute and the Center for Clinical and Genetic Economics at Duke University. "The largest public health crisis in the United States is being addressed with the type of data that we reject in every other field of medicine: observational studies subject to selection bias and small scale, short-term clinical studies which can't offer definitive results."
Born from a shared vision of its cofounders, Peter Attia, MD, and Gary Taubes, NuSI will fund research that applies first-of-its-kind, rigorous scientific experimentation to the field of nutrition and will communicate its findings to the public and decision-makers alike in an effort to significantly improve the quality of nutritional guidance, dietary recommendations and policies.
"Diet has profound importance for human health," said NuSI cofounder Taubes. "NuSI will catalyze a revolution in nutrition science by challenging both the conventional wisdom that obesity is caused simply by eating too many calories and the alternative hypothesis that obesity is caused less by the actual number of calories consumed and more by the type of calories consumed. We see an effective way to address the problem, and the solution is within our reach."
In order to conduct scientifically-sound experiments, NuSI's oversight comes from independent researchers from varying backgrounds and divergent beliefs. The combination of skeptical experts holding opposing theories, coupled with the shared belief that nutrition science in its current state is inadequate, demands that the findings will be based on rigorous science rather than popular opinion.
"Scientific paradigm shifts occur only when standard dogmas are questioned and tested," said David Harlan, M.D., William and Doris Krupp professor of medicine and chief of the Diabetes Division at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. "NuSI is an example of a group of committed scientists, clinicians and citizens interested in rigorously testing how dietary constituents can influence body weight, and the mechanisms underlying those effects. NuSI will play an extraordinarily important role in science, since the standard systems have become dominated by those who—consciously or subconsciously—resist studies that fall outside the accepted dogma."
NuSI will operate entirely on funding from private citizens and other organizations. A two-year, multi-million-dollar seed funding commitment was provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF).
"Laura and John Arnold are passionate about reducing the social and economic burden of obesity," said LJAF Director of Communications Meredith Johnson. "Yet, without defensible scientific evidence, it is useless to support any public education campaign around what to eat. We are committed to supporting innovative efforts, like NuSI, that promote the rigorous science necessary to drive lasting and positive social impact."
By facilitating reliable science to inform dietary guidelines, NuSI seeks, by the year 2025, to see a reduction in the prevalence of obesity in the United States from 35 percent to 15 percent and a reduction in the prevalence of diabetes from 8 percent to 2 percent. If successful, the resulting impact on healthcare spending in the United States could be reduced from today's nearly 18 percent of GDP to less than 10 percent.
"NuSI is looking to concentrate all nutrition science funding efforts into one common and strategic path to resolution, rather than individual efforts that don't build to a greater scientific understanding," said NuSI's President and co-founder, Peter Attia, M.D. "Without all the elements—money, time and talent—working in concert, research efforts will continue to fall short of what is necessary to solve this problem. Our greatest asset is our dedication to solving a fundamentally solvable problem using a multi-disciplinary and focused approach. NuSI will be successful because we are bringing together the best scientific minds and giving them the time and resources they require to find the answers we all need."