Will our world’s future see the rich develop into a super species marked by a diet optimized to genetic makeup while the poor are stunted both physically and mentally by substandard living conditions and malnourishment?
This was one of the questions addressed at “Hidden Hunger: Socioeconomic and Scientific Challenges” on March 12 in Santa Barbara. Organized by Lester Packer, adjunct professor at the School of Pharmacy, the conference was attended by noted economists, nutrition experts and scientists from 11 countries, including two Nobel Laureates and a Medal of Science winner.
Sponsors were Sight and Life, the USC School of Pharmacy, Oxygen Club of California, and the Linus Pauling Institute.
The session focused on the need to develop a sustainable approach to making available high-quality food interventions worldwide. While establishing good nutrition as a human right was advocated, the group also discussed the return on investment, noting the global economic loss due to malnutrition.
Danielle Colayco, a Pharm.D. student who is considering a fellowship next year in industry, was struck by the presentation of UC Berkeley professor Daniel McFadden, a Nobel Prize winner in economics. “Dr. McFadden presented research that showed how health disparities between socioeconomic classes were not explained by differential access to health care, but rather by disparities in nutrition. Clearly, public policy and health education initiatives are urgently needed.”
Zulfiqar Bhutta, from Aga Khan University in Karachi, cited vitamin and mineral deficiency as robbing many countries of as much as five percent of their gross domestic product. Bhutta believes that tying the provision of good nutrition to economics presents the best chance of solving the problem.
Acknowledging that malnutrition stunts the lives and livelihoods of two billion people worldwide, participants in the roundtable suggested two primary objectives to address hidden hunger: the development of strategies that improve the availability of micronutrient-rich and low-cost supplementary foods and the need for all sectors of society in developing and industrialized nations to work together to solve this pressing problem.
Jane Pai, who has a Pharm.D. and M.P.H. from USC and is now pursuing a doctorate in the School of Pharmacy’s program in pharmaceutical economics and policy, commented, “Methods such as improved sanitation and good nutrition help create an environment of equal opportunity for all. This so clearly impacts economic status.”
Other participants from USC included Enrique Cadenas, associate dean for research affairs at the School of Pharmacy, and Decrick Han, assistant professor of research at the Keck School of Medicine. Also attending were Jerry Chang and Marcio Fletes, School of Pharmacy students who are considering corporate careers or positions in government dealing with pharmaceutical economics policy.
The roundtable was followed by a two-day symposium on “Oxidants and Antioxidants in Biology,” organized by Enrique Cadenas, the Charles Krown/Pharmacy Alumni Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the School of Pharmacy, and adjunct professor Lester Packer, along with colleagues from other universities. Roberta Brinton, the R. Pete Vanderveen Chair in Therapeutic Discovery and Development, presented at the symposium.