Politico finds that Federal Nutrition Research is Underfunded

The Lempert Report
January 13, 2020

An excellent article in Politico spotlights an increasingly health-conscious America in which the federal government has devoted only a tiny fraction of its research dollars to nutrition.

Helena Bottemiller Evich and Catherine Boudreau have published a rightfully scathing piece on Politico that points a shaming finger at the Federal Government.

Diet-related illnesses like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are on the rise while heart disease remains the leading cause of death.  And in an increasingly health-conscious America, the federal government has devoted only a tiny fraction of its research dollars to nutrition, a level that has not kept pace with the worsening crisis of diet-related diseases they point out.  

A Politico review of federal budget documents revealed that at the National Institutes of Health and the Agriculture Department — the two agencies that fund the majority of government-backed nutrition science — the share of research dollars devoted to nutrition has stayed largely flat for at least three decades, and pales in comparison to many other areas of research.

In 2018, NIH invested $1.8 billion in nutrition research, or just under 5 percent of its total budget. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service devoted $88 million, or a little more than 7 percent of its overall budget, to human nutrition, the same level as in 1983 when adjusted for inflation. 

“In so many areas [of science], things get better over time,” Jerold Mande, a professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, who worked at USDA and the Food and Drug Administration during Democratic administrations, told Politico “But nutrition has gotten so much worse.”

According to the column, today’s diet crisis is one of excess, and it is costing us dearly: obesity alone costs about $147 billion annually; hypertension costs an estimated $131 billion a year. And, sadly, there is no major lobbying force behind boosting nutrition research funding.  

In 2018, NIH funding for cancer, which affects about 9 percent of the population, was $6.3 billion. Funding for obesity, which affects about 30 percent of the country, was about $1 billion.