Dr. Regina Benjamin Defines a Role for Food Science
by Toni Tarver
For the Beacon Lecture series on Monday, June 13, Dr. Regina Benjamin, U.S. Surgeon General, laid out her goal for the health and wellness of U.S. citizens. Food science and the food industry play significant roles in her vision. “As America’s doctor, I really want to provide the best scientific knowledge” to make the lifestyles of Americans healthier, she said. And the best time to provide that knowledge is before illness strikes: a strategy for prevention. Food is an important part of this strategy, and Dr. Benjamin emphasized the role that the food industry can play in the prevention of food-related disease.
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s MyPlate icon emphasizes the dietary elements necessary for a healthy lifestyle: at least half a plate of fresh fruits and vegetables. “We are working on getting fresh produce into neighborhoods where there are no grocery stores,” Dr. Benjamin said. And as part of the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, several food companies—including The Coca Cola Company, ConAgra, Kellogg Company, and Kraft Foods—have committed to trim 1.5 trillion calories from their food products by 2015. The food industry can also direct their efforts to offering more healthy food products that mirror the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These endeavors will ensure that consumers have the tools necessary to make healthier lifestyle choices that can lead to healthier lives.
While the role of the food industry is significant, perhaps that of the medical industry is even more important. “We need to move from a system based on [treating illness] to one of preventing illness,” Dr. Benjamin said. This may mean changing the curriculum at medical schools so that it includes more courses on food science and nutrition. Hopefully, once physicians, food scientists, and food manufacturers are armed with the same information, consumers will gain more access to resources for maintaining good health and preventing food-related diseases.