We are facing a health crisis unlike any other in human history. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes are now the major causes of death and disability in the world, outpacing the rates of acute diseases in many nations. In the United States alone, 7 of the 10 leading causes of death are chronic diseases. What’s more, treating these chronic diseases accounts for 90 percent of the $3.3 trillion annual U.S. healthcare costs.
A bleak outlook
These statistics are dire. Poor nutrition is the leading cause of chronic disease and obesity — it is responsible for more deaths in the United States than tobacco, inactivity, or any other risk factor. What’s more, the meaning of poor nutrition has shifted radically in recent decades. Rather than lack of food, poor nutrition now commonly means overconsumption of high-calorie, low-nutrient, and body-disrupting foods that spur chronic disease.
Yet the problem itself contains the seeds of the solution. Just as poor nutrition is the primary cause of chronic disease, personalized nutrition is the most powerful antidote. There is now a vast body of science underscoring the impact of nutrition and its role as one of the most powerful determinants of our health; and personalized nutrition has the potential to prevent, treat, and even reverse chronic diseases by facilitating changes in genes and/or protein expression, thereby addressing their root causes.
Let’s get personal
Personalized nutrition is grounded in the understanding that one size does not fit all; differences in our biochemistry, metabolism, genetics, and microbiota all contribute to the dramatic, individualized response to various inputs and exposures. Personalized nutrition recommendations and interventions are driven by rich clinical data such as genetic makeup, and robust scientific research, allowing scientists and practitioners to elucidate and beneficially influence how nutrition shapes an individual’s response to various inputs such as their stress, sleep, environment, and overall nutrient status.
The American Nutrition Association (ANA) champions the power of personalized nutrition to transform chronic disease and the healthcare landscape, but a standardized definition of “personalized nutrition” and its scope have been lacking. The ANA gathered a group of experts to generate a consensus definition of the term and to explore the elements of effective personalized nutrition across three major areas of application: research, education, and clinical care. The authors propose that personalized nutrition be formally defined as “a field that leverages human individuality to drive nutrition strategies that prevent, manage, and treat disease and optimize health.” This definition allows for the inclusion of strategies that go beyond the point of clinical care to advance human health and healthcare such as products, services, testing, education, and policy.
Strategies in the works
The ANA continues to equip a variety of healthcare professionals to apply personalized strategies in many settings so that all health practitioners can practice nutrition to the level of their training. By increasing access to care and by setting standards for the field, personalized nutrition can be fully integrated into the healthcare system, thereby improving access to care and touching more lives with the power of personalized nutrition.The ANA annual conference, Personalized Nutrition 2020, will convene scientists, educators, healthcare professionals, philanthropists, and business leaders to explore leading-edge areas of research, assessment and clinical care in personalized nutrition topics, in Chicago November 10-13 Learn more at theANA.org.