American Diet Creates Public Health Crisis, Experts Say

Nutrition, food, and health experts recently testified in a Congressional hearing on nutrition, arguing that poor diets are creating a “public health crisis.”

“Many more Americans are sick than are healthy, and the top driver is our food,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Mozaffarian points to the shocking prevalence of disease – one in two American adults has diabetes or prediabetes—as evidence of a government failure to confront diet-related illnesses.

The effects of poor nutrition are especially potent in lower-income communities of color.

“As an African American researcher, mother, and nutrition educator, I have seen the impact of poor nutrition,” says Angela Odoms, a professor at Cornell University. Black Americans, Odoms testifies, are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized for lower limb amputations, and almost four times as likely to develop kidney failure than white Americans.

The same problems persist for Native Americans, many of whom live in “conditions that are comparable to developing nations,” according to Donald Warne, a public health expert at the University of North Dakota. “A significant national effort,” Warne says, “is needed to promote collaboration and to solve this public health crisis.”

“These conditions are deadly, costly – and preventable,” Mozzafarian says. “Our nation spends US$237 billion each year in excess health care costs for diabetes, and loses another US$90 billion in lost productivity.”

“Rather than the significant financial expenses and  decreases in quality of life associated with addressing complications of diabetes and heart disease,” asks Warne, “would it not make more sense to invest in healthy food in the first place?”

A recent Government Accountability Office report finds that more than 200 federal programs aimed at addressing nutrition are poorly coordinated. The report concludes that the federal government must find a broader strategy to link these programs and tackle chronic disease head-on.

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