Nutrition Society President Says Eat Less, Move More
Raloff, Janet, Science News
Physician Robert Russell became president of the American Society for Nutrition earlier this year. A policy consultant to the National Institutes of Heath, Russell spent a quarter century with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., most recently as its director. He has authored hundreds of papers on nutrition science, many in the fields of vitamins, food-derived antioxidants and gastrointestinal disease. Science News senior editor Janet Raloff spoke with him about today's most prominent nutrition issues.
What's the biggest issue facing the nutrition community today?
It's got to be obesity. But it's a medical issue as much as a nutritional one because obesity can play a role in so many diseases, from cancer and diabetes to arthritis, stroke, cardiovascular disease--almost every chronic disease of aging.
The public is aware of obesity's risks because they hear about it almost every day on the news. Unfortunately, that awareness has not translated into major behavioral change for the vast majority of the overweight population. We used to think that just getting the word out and providing education would be all that's needed to change things, but we've been learning that it's not all that's needed. We also need to involve communities, families, schools--many, many actors--in order to really catalyze effective behavioral change.
Is this because we're working against our biology?
Essentially. Evolutionarily, our bodies developed to make very efficient use of energy. Particularly in storing calories that we don't need to use right away. Now that our lifestyles are dominated by computers and television viewing, people are becoming increasingly sedentary. And this energy-use efficiency, which is built into our genes, is no longer so necessary.
So we have to change food habits--working against the way our bodies have been programmed.
To do that in ways that will be effective, we need to understand the biochemical and molecular mechanisms that are involved. We need to better understand all aspects of appetite regulation and aspects of energy metabolism by muscle and fat cells. You've probably been reading about the body's brown fat, which is far more metabolically active than white fat. …