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CRITICAL ISSUES IN NUTRITION SCIENCES AT THE UNIVERSITY LEVEL John A. Milner Approximately 250 administrative units throughout the United States offer educational opportunities in nutrition. Many of these programs are part of a comprehensive university, and thus have as their primary mission the creation, perpetuation, expansion, and transmission of nutrition knowledge. However, these administrative units vary widely in their organizational programs, services, challenges, and opportunities. Academic excellence in nutrition requires the effective coordination of teaching, research, and public service not only for the development of future leaders in the nutrition sciences but also for the acquisition of knowledge aimed at improvement of the quality of life. It is recognized that inappropriate nutrition is a primary factor in unattained genetic potential, reduced productivity, and increased susceptibility to disease. Public recognition of the importance of nutrition to public health has led to an unprecedented interest in this discipline by scientists, legislators, health professionals, and consumers. Our ability to capitalize on this increased recognition will surely determine the fate of nutrition as a science. For nutritionists to continue to make contributions to improving the quality of life, several critical issues must be addressed. Each of these is briefly discussed below. Recognition of these issues offers exciting challenges and opportunities for those actively involved in this discipline. Likewise, exciting possibilities exist for universities that are willing to ass-me a leadership role. 183
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IMAGE AND IDENTITY Science is the systematized knowledge obtained from observations, examination, and experimentation performed to determine the nature or principles of specific processes. Thus, nutrition science is one that examines the sum of the biological processes that occur prior to and following the intake of food as they relate to growth, development, and the maintenance of health. Therefore, nutrition is not a pure science but draws extensively on root disciplines. The application of advances made within these root disciplines has been at least partially responsible for the awareness of the science of nutrition. This coupling with root disciplines, however, has also been at least partially responsible for the image and identity problems faced by those involved in nutrition. Nutritionists are invariably not easily pigeonholed into neat compartments within the hierarchical system that occurs on many university campuses. For nutritionists to make significant advances, they must interact not only with other nutritionists but also with individuals within root disciplines. This reliance on other disciplines can lead to nutritionists asking: "Where should I reside and what is my primary focus?" The problem of identity faced by nutritionists is by no means unique to this area, but it is probably magnified by the expectations imposed on them by the general population. Furthermore, at least part of the image problem possibly comes from the inability of nutritionists to sell or market nutrition, at least under most circumstances. _ For nutritionists to truly make progress, they must be the first to communicate to the public the impact that nutrition can, and does, have on health and the quality of life. Too often, when nutritionists address issues, they are placed on the defensive rather than the offensive. ., PERSONNEL NEEDS To ensure that the next generation of nutrition scientists includes creative minds, recruitment must take place at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. It is surprising that a degree in nutrition sciences is not touted as an appropriate undergraduate program for entry into any of the health-related professional schools. Since nutrition can have an impact on the 184
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ultimate outcome of patient care, greater emphasis on nutrition as an undergraduate program appears to be appropriate. Nutritionists must continue to focus on critical issues using state-of-the-art technologies. By continuing to be at the forefront of nutrition and the associated root discipline, the profession can be competitive in attracting quality undergraduate and graduate students. This continuation is not only critical for addressing issues of immediate concern but also for the development of future leaders in nutrition. INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH Strong linkages with various administrative units on a university campus are essential for meeting the mission and goals of a strong nutrition program. By highlighting critical issues faced by consumers, nutrition programs within a university can serve as a focal point for a coordinated campaign. - The responsibility for initiating, developing, and administering educational programs in nutrition is traditionally delegated to departments or other academic units within or across colleges. At the University of Illinois, an interdepartmental and intercollege graduate program in nutritional sciences, the Division of Nutritional Sciences, has been established. At present, 42 faculty are joined together through a common allegiance to the science of nutrition, but they reside within a home department in one of six colleges on the campus. The objective is to join forces with other units throughout the university to focus on nutrition issues, assist in the education of future leaders in nutrition, and address issues in nutrition through interdisciplinary research. By allowing faculty and students to remain closely aligned to a nutrition sciences interdisciplinary program, it should prevent unnecessary duplication of efforts in the nutrition sciences and allow for the maximum use of resources. While such interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary programs are often touted as having clear advantages, ~- ~ ~ their creation Is the exception rather than the general rule in most universities. This reluctance to develop such administrative units possibly reflects the inability of university administrations to 185
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recognize nutrition as an integrated science and to deal with administrative units other than departments that are committed to the mission and goals of an individual college. It must be recognized that research serves as the cornerstone of the science of nutrition, which plays an essential role in medical practice, disease prevention, public health education, and the use of agricultural products. By virtue of the groups that can be influenced by nutrition research, an interdisciplinary approach appears to be extremely logical. Because of its complexity, nutrition research requires sophisticated designs and analytic capabilities that, again, are often best addressed in an interdisciplinary and multidisci- plinary environment. In the future, nutrition objectives will surely require scientists to use extensive interdisciplinary approaches. Figure 1 depicts the potential partnerships that can be developed between a nutrition sciences program and the various educational units that typically exist in a / / / : . Nutritional Sciences ~\ / ' 2 ' ' _ .' ; .; ~ A ~>< / ''''I'''' as' ' '''\ \ / ~ / Critical lesues \ \ \ / i/ Oict and Health \ \ \ / ~ Satety~Enviro:\ ~ Adequate ~Colisumer~mental ~ \ \S u P P I I ~ F ~ c t o r s; _ \ ~Sensory \ ~Paycilologica \ : ~ \ Feetore ~. ,. \ \ . . .. - . . ~/ \ \ Nutritional Sciences .' / \ VeterlnarY Sciences FIGURE 1 Relationship between nutrition sciences and other administrative units typically found in a comprehensive university in meeting consumer needs. 186
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comprehensive university in order to address common concerns. It is the belief of many that making nutrition a campus-wide program, rather than limiting its scope to a single college, enhances the opportunities available to nutritionists and reduces possible image and identity problems. By focusing on the science of nutrition and not necessarily emphasizing the application of this knowledge, interdisciplinary programs are less likely to engage in turf battles with departments. An environment in which all participants in the program win must be established for an interdisciplinary nutrition program to survive. Faculty and students with commitments to either human or animal nutrition can work side by side on ventures of common interest. By focusing attention on consumers, a variety of academic units can benefit from an interdisciplinary approach to nutrition (Figure 1~. Many factors are known to influence the dietary habits of individuals. While diet and health are clearly involved, other conside- rations such as adequate food supply, sensory and psychological factors, and safety and environmental concerns may also regulate dietary habits. We all recognize that money is needed for the conduct of research and that these costs are increasing at an unbelievable rate. Historically, research in agricultural production, food science, and nutrition has been rewarding and cost-effective. Although various studies have shown that there are higher returns following investment in research and development, the food and agriculture research and development systems typically funds research at levels lower than those of virtually all other industries. The lower level of support may reflect the less well defined benefits of nutrition research. By capitalizing on the social and psychological factors regulating food intake and capitalizing on nutrition as a key factor in the quality of life, we may be able to enhance the present resources for nutrition research. STRONG ACADEMIC INTERRELATIONSHIPS Until recently, many nutritionists were only able to explain the metabolic derangement associated with inappropriate nutrient intake. However, dramatic 187
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advances in biotechnology promise to afford nutrition scientists the means of seeking the underlying mechanisms by which nutritional factors modulate growth and resistance to disease. Extensive evidence shows that inappropriate nutrition often leads to dramatic changes in specific cellular proteins and is therefore a primary factor in determining the genetic potential of an organism. To facilitate excellence in nutrition science programs, a strong educational and research bond with units offering expertise in cellular and molecular biology must be established and fostered. The current public attention on health maintenance has stimulated interest in both diet and exercise. Mounting evidence supports a synergism between both of these factors in health maintenance. At least some dietary recommendations appear to be designed to overcome the adverse effects of a sedentary life-style. Although dietary manipulations will likely never compensate totally for inactivity, better understanding of the dynamic relationship between these factors is needed before general and widespread recommendations can be made to the public. Thus, again, a strong tie with kinesiology or related units must be developed and fostered. Unfortunately, some of the underlying factors that control food preference are still not understood. It is evident that food selection is regulated by a variety of stimuli that are related to the individual's psychological, economical, sociocultural, and physiologic state, as well as to the chemical, physical, and sensory factors of the food to be consumed. Greater under- standing of the complex process of food selection will come from the effective blending of expertise in the social, psychological, biological, and chemical sciences. With the demands on the nation's and world's food resources that are now occurring, and that will likely be magnified in the future, it is imperative that we join forces to enhance our understanding of food selection. Since nutrition has both applied and fundamental components, nutritionists must continue to develop strong ties with the health professional community. The recognized association between inappropriate nutrition and health maintenance serves to emphasize the importance of fostering this linkage. 188
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SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS The modern-day nutritionist is facing many exciting opportunities and challenges, and this paper describes many of the challenges and opportunities that exist at the University of Illinois. Nevertheless, similar opportunities and challenges are available in many, if not most, universities where nutrition science is taught. Nutritionists must take advantage of the opportunities and address the challenges for continued progress to be made in the discipline. With the increased awareness of nutrition as a mayor contributor to health, the time to act is now. . 189
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Representative terms from entire chapter: