Shiriki Kumanyika, Research Professor in the Department of Community Health and Prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University and Chair of the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), moderated the final session of the day. In this session, M. R. C. Greenwood, Johanna Dwyer, and Linda D. Meyers each provided their impressions from the day’s presentations and spoke about how the work of the FNB could build on its past to prepare for the future.
Greenwood, President and Professor Emerita at the University of Hawaii and Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, opened the session. She reminded the audience of what Cutberto Garza had said in the opening video: “There are three things we cannot live without, food, air, and water.… All three of those components are in serious trouble,” and these three issues are closely integrated. Greenwood explained that there are serious issues with the availability of food, the quality of food, and the transformation of food. For example, she added that the quality of water in the United States and many other countries is changing and degrading. Greenwood referenced the Diet and Health report (NRC, 1989) when the board was leading the discussion about
transitioning from nutrition as nutrient-specific and nutritionally adequate to discussions about the prevention of chronic disease.
Greenwood remarked that the FNB led the discussion related to understanding the interdisciplinary nature of their work and how that was changing, adding that the same discussion needs to be emphasized today. The FNB could include those from new and different disciplines on the board, she said. Greenwood emphasized the need to keep the quality of evidence in reports high, adding that reports need to be evidence-based, but not drowning in data. The value of clear and concise communications to the public should also be valued. She remarked that food issues continue to provide challenges and we have much to learn about the new production of foods and the changing patterns of food consumption, but the FNB is the place to have that conversation. Greenwood also suggested that the board take on the issue of harmonizing food safety practices. Her final recommendation was to revisit the Diet and Health report because it represented, in its time, the transition to a new and more progressive way of thinking. As we prepare for the challenges of this new century, our citizens also need a better understanding of risk. Now, 30 years later the FNB should look proactively to producing an equally compelling report as the complexity of nutrition science grows ever more sophisticated.
Meyers, former Director of the Food and Nutrition Board, began by positioning her remarks from the perspective of someone who worked every day with wonderful experts. Meyers remarked that two of the messages she heard throughout the day were, first, that the FNB has real impact and second, that the discipline we call nutrition is interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, or integrative, meaning that individuals from many different backgrounds create the body of knowledge we call nutrition, which sometimes is not recognized as a separate entity with specialized knowledge. As our work expanded, she explained, we have had to learn and incorporate each other’s languages and methods, whether from public health, epidemiology, behavioral health, biostatistics, economics, systems approaches, health policy, and the range of agricultural technology—and more. “All of our learning how to work together and be broader and more inclusive has been good and has advanced food and nutrition,” she said.
As an observation, Meyers remarked, continuing the key role of the FNB in advancing food and nutrition will require collaboration, hard work, and openness on the part of the National Academies and the FNB to more compellingly explain how and why the institution works, and why it is uniquely positioned to address hard topics in food and nutrition. She added that it is going to require sponsors to keep an open mind in understanding what seems like a blurry and unfamiliar process. Meyers further observed
that if the National Academies is serious about the value it accords the FNB, then deployment of its fundraising, endowment building, and communication talents on behalf of the board is essential. In her closing comments, Meyers said she thought that all of those here today have a stronger collective sense of the past and the challenges for the future. “I think this meeting has given us the concepts and some of the elements of a blueprint. Now the next step, of course, will be to achieve it.”
Dwyer, Professor of Medicine (Nutrition) and Community Health at the Tufts University School of Medicine and Professor of Nutrition at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, identified four things that she heard come through over the course of the day. First, she said, is that the FNB needs to serve as nutrition’s “invisible college.” Dwyer said her second observation is the need for ensuring support and stable funding for the FNB. The third, she added, is filling knowledge gaps; and finally, building a workforce that is really in sync with national needs.
With regard to the “invisible college,” Dwyer recollected that, historically, this was the name given to a small group of scholars who met face to face to exchange ideas and encourage each other. She gave as an example the natural philosophers, like Robert Boyle, who were likely the precursors to The Royal Society. The group’s goal was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation. The concept of the invisible college as a contemporary phenomenon, she said, was further developed in the science of sociology by Diana Crane and by Derek de Solla Price, who worked on citation networks at Harvard. More recently, Dwyer added, the concept has been applied to the global network of communications in Wagner’s book The New Invisible College: Science for Development. It is well worth reading, she noted.
Dwyer then acknowledged her many colleagues over the years, who she referred to as the feeder systems that exist in science. Dwyer then turned to the need for support, in which she included “in-kind moral support” as well as economic support for the FNB both from within the National Academies and from the broader academic network. Dwyer encouraged Congress as well as the private and nonprofit sectors to consider the need for an FNB endowment to support projects. On the topic of building knowledge gaps, Dwyer noted the work of Lydia Roberts and others on nutrient requirements and recommendations in the 1940s, and the Diet and Health report (NRC, 1989), adding that evolving models continue to develop. Dwyer’s closing comment noted the need to build a nutrition workforce that is in sync with national needs. “I think change is necessary for the workforce to better fit the future.”
Kumanyika offered her thoughts in closing the symposium. First, she thanked the speakers and members of the board, Alice Lichtenstein, Bernadette Marriott, Sylvia Rowe, and Barbara Schneeman, for their contributions to the event. In her remarks, Kumanyika said, “if it looked difficult in 1940, that was nothing compared to what we are facing now. It is a lot more complicated, broader, and challenging. But this topic has the ability to inspire all the effort that is put in. I hope that inspiration will carry us through so that we can look back on it years from now and see what we have accomplished.”