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Importance of Human Nutrition in Agricultural Production: The Role of Dairy Foods 

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: Importance of Human Nutrition in Agricultural Production
: dairy, agriculture, nutrient density, food security
: Gregory Miller22 15 Oct 2012
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The relationship between human nutrition and agricultural production is multidimensional. Nutrition is a fundamental human need that affects health and well-being across the life-span, and it is well recognized that balanced nutrient and calorie intakes form the basis of a healthy diet (1). Agricultural production is part of a larger food system that involves processing, food manufacturing and distribution to consumers, whose dietary choices influence patterns of agricultural production. Healthy eating is essential for normal growth and development and for reducing disease risk (1), and poor nutrition can lead to malnutrition and obesity, both of which are seen across the globe. Global population is projected to increase from 7 to 9 billion by 2050, and concerns about reversing obesity and malnutrition persist. Meeting future demands for food, thus, not only means producing more food, but also foods that can build nutritionally adequate, high-quality diets to promote human health. U.S. agriculture has had an impressive record of increasing productivity that has led to relatively affordable food for the population and increases in agricultural exports.2 Despite these advances, U.S. farmers face future challenges in meeting food needs for expanding U.S. and global populations – all under the constraints of rising production costs, limited natural resources, climate change and environmental and ecosystem dynamics (2). As indicated by USDA, future agricultural development will depend on an information base and the availability of affordable technologies that can serve to 1) improve food production; 2) improve natural resource management; and 3) advance the health and safety of the population while minimizing environmental impacts (3). Dairy foods, important contributors to health, yet under-consumed. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, nutrients of public health concern, and consuming more dairy, vegetables, fruits and whole grains (1). For people 9 years and older, for example, this means increasing dairy intake from the current 1.6 servings to 3.0 servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy per day. Even at today’s intakes, dairy is an important source of nutrition. Milk is the number one food source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D,4 and more than half of the calcium and vitamin D that Americans get from foods they eat comes from dairy at only 10% of daily calories (5). Dairy foods also provide about a quarter of the daily intake of vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin and phosphorus, plus 18% of daily protein and 16% of daily potassium and zinc in the diet5. Higher dairy intake can play an important role in helping to reduce risks of several chronic diseases (1). The dietary guidelines state that moderate evidence shows that intake of milk and milk products is linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents, and is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and with lower blood pressure in adults (1). Research to understand how to help consumers shift food choices to more nutrient dense dietary patterns, including increased dairy consumption, is needed to improve the health of Americans. Improving food production, managing natural resources and protecting the environment. Global population growth together with other environmental concerns is putting pressure on finite natural resources. Increasingly, to meet future demands for food and other agricultural products needed to support human health, it is important to consider economic, social, and environmental influences (2). Dairy farmers have a long history of improving agricultural productivity while improving use of natural resource and reducing environmental impacts. Milk yield per cow in the U.S. increased more than 4-fold between 1944 and 2007 (6), while using 90% less land, 65% less water and producing 75% less manure and a 63% smaller carbon footprint per gallon of milk (7). Dairy cattle also add significant value to the human food supply through their innate ability to convert the nutrients in human-inedible forages and by-products to human-edible products. Better use of feed and its nutrients can lead to improved productivity, increased feed efficiency, and reduced nutrient waste including lower methane emissions Across the dairy industry today, dairy farmers, dairy processors, retailers and others are working together so they can continue to provide products that are nutritious, economically viable and produced responsibly. For example, using life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to comprehensively examine a broad range of environmental impacts across the entire process from production of milk on the farm through consumption by consumers, the dairy industry is working to optimize use of natural resources and reduce environmental impacts. LCA has become an important tool for environmental impact assessment and for informed decision-making on resource management and environmental impact reduction across all types of products and services. A new and emerging area of research in the agri-food sector is the assessment of environmental impacts of different foods and dietary patterns. Research needs cut across disciplines, including agricultural, nutritional, environmental, economic and food sciences. Forums, such as roundtables or workshops could be held to further advance interdisciplinary, collaborative research that is needed to develop a solid information base on how individual foods and dietary patterns may impact future natural resources. With human health a central goal of agricultural production, it will be important for the nutritional and human value of foods to be represented in decision-making involving future agricultural production and natural resource management. Shifts in consumer choice to more nutrient dense diets needed for health. A significant concern for public health in the U.S. is that many Americans are not consuming the recommended servings of dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Average dairy consumption, for example, is only about half of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended 3 daily servings for those 9 years and older. Consumers today vary widely in the type and amounts of foods they find appealing, affordable and socially and culturally acceptable. Consumer food choices are guided by an inter-play of factors that include taste preferences, food costs, convenience, nutritional attributes, healthfulness, social and cultural norms (8,9) and increasingly the sustainable production of foods. A growing number of consumers say it is important that foods they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way (self-defined in the survey) (9). Consumer responses to educational information can also influence selection of foods. A recent study, for example, found that consumer decision making based on information about the nutrient density of foods, rather than nutrients to avoid, can lead to better diet quality (10). More research is clearly needed to better understand motivations behind food choice and how to guide people to make healthier choices. The nutritional quality of foods available to consumers is shaped by agricultural and food production and distribution systems, which in turn are influenced by the aggregation of individual decision making (8). Given the multifaceted nature of consumer decision making, advancing our knowledge base through research within the broader social and cultural context will likely require interdisciplinary collaborations involving nutrition and health professionals, agricultural specialists, economic experts, food scientists and policy makers. A stronger information base within and across disciplines could support innovative solutions for resolving nutrient inadequacies in the U.S. Dairy foods, important source of nutrients in malnutrition. In 2010, the FAO reported a staggering 925 million people worldwide are chronically hungry (11). Children are particularly vulnerable with undernutrition associated with slowed growth and potential long-term effects on cognitive development, academic achievement and economic productivity in adulthood (11). Access to healthy diets is a problem for an estimated 17 million U.S. children (2-18 years old) (12) and an estimated 40 million children under 5 years old globally who are moderately malnourished (13). Dairy foods can play an important role in treating or preventing malnutrition. The World Health Organization (WHO), following a review of evidence on dietary management for children with moderately acute malnutrition, proposed inclusion of milk powder in supplemental foods to supplement diets made of locally available nutrient dense foods, but short on key nutrients (13). The WHO stated, “inclusion of milk powder as an ingredient improves the amino acid profile and is a good contributor of bioavailable calcium and potassium. In addition, it has a specific stimulating effect on linear growth …” Additionally, more research on the composition, acceptability and use of supplemental foods was recommended, noting that growth and functional improvement endpoints should be examined. Similarly, a 2008 WHO, UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR consultation on the dietary management of moderate malnutrition in children under 5 years recommended adding animal source foods to a plant-based diet to promote recovery of moderately malnourished children (14). The consultation report indicated that diets providing substantial quantities of animal-source foods, including dairy products, provide high-quality protein and bioavailable micronutrients and fiber. Potential benefits of specific milk protein and whey protein in fortified food blends were recognized, but the report indicated a need for more research in children with moderate malnutrition. While the effectiveness of dairy and dairy ingredients in products for severe malnutrition is well established, more research is needed on the mechanisms and amounts; for example, clarifying the role of the minerals in dairy. Research on the dietary management of moderate malnutrition continues to emerge, with more rapid linear growth with milk consumption shown in nutritionally vulnerable children (14). Adding cow’s milk to the diet of stunted children likely will improve linear growth and reduce morbidity, but more research is indicated. Further study on the role of protein quality in these populations has also been suggested. Dairy foods, important source of nutrition for food insecure households. In the U.S. in 2008, 15% of households were food insecure, meaning at some time in the year they had lack of access to a nutritious and adequate food supply (12). Food insecurity can lead to significant consequences on the physical and mental health of adults, including more vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and seniors, and as noted above, children are particularly vulnerable. Both Federal and community food and nutrition assistance programs are important resources for low-income households. Because of their unique nutritional profile, health benefits and lower cost, milk and dairy products are widely available through USDA’s nutrition programs. Fifty-five percent of food-insecure households receive assistance from one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs, and about 20% obtain emergency food from a food pantry at some time during the year (12). In 2011, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children, especially households with children headed by single women or single men, Black non-Hispanic households and Hispanic households (15). Few studies have examined associations between food insecurity and food intake. A recent CDC study in Oregon compared consumption of vegetables, fruit, candy or cookies, French fries, fast food, water, milk, fruit juices, fruit drinks, soda, and sports drinks by toddlers of food secure and food insecure mothers (16). Toddlers of food insecure mothers consumed vegetables and fruit on fewer days of the week and soda on more days of the week than toddlers of food secure mothers. These consumption patterns may help begin to explain the link between food insecurity and poor health. More research is needed, including research on dairy consumption in food insecure children to complement that on malnutrition, to better understand associations between dairy intake, as well as other foods, and health status in food insecure people across the lifespan. References 1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010. 2. Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century. Committee on Twenty-First Century Systems Agriculture; National Research Council 2010: 1-598. 3. USDA Research, Education and Economics Action Plan 2012 4. Dairy Research Institute. NHANES 2007-2008. Data Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [2007-2008]. [] 5. Dairy Research Institute. NHANES 2003-2006. Data Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, [2003-2004; 2005-2006]. [] 6. United States Department of Agriculture. National Agriculture Statistics Service. 7. Capper J. Cady A. Bauman D. 2009. The environmental impact of dairy production; 1944 compared with 2007. Journal of Animal Science. 87:2160-2167. 8. Hammond RA, Dube L. A systems science perspective and transdisciplinary models for food and nutrition security. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2012; 109(31): 12356-63. 9. 2012 Food & Health Survey. International Food Information Council Foundation. 10. Glanz K, Hersey J, Cates S, et al. Effect of a nutrient rich foods consumer education program: results from the nutrition advice study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012; 112(1): 56-63. 11. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 925 million in chronic hunger worldwide. September 14, 2010. accessed 10-6-12. 12. Nord M, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson. Household Food Security in the United States, 2008. ERR-83, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Econ. Res. Serv. November 2009. 2009. 13. WHO. Technical note:Supplementary foods for the management of moderate acute malnutrition in infants and hildren 6–59 months of age. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2012. 14. WHO, UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR Consultation on the Dietary Management of Moderate Malnutrition in Under-5 Children. Food Nutrition Bulletin (Supplement); 30(3): September 2009 15. Coleman-Jensen A, Nord, M., Andrews, M., & Carlson, S. USDA.. Household Food Security in the United States in 2011. 2011. 16. Cunningham TJ, Barradas DT, Rosenberg KD, May AL, Kroelinger CD, Ahluwalia IB. Is Maternal Food Security a Predictor of Food and Drink Intake Among Toddlers in Oregon? Matern Child Health J 2012.

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