December 6th, 2002

AMES, Iowa — Lack of funding is jeopardizing the federal government's system of monitoring the status of Americans' nutrition, according to a new report.

For more than 70 years, the system has provided essential information about Americans' nutritional status, food intake and health factors, said Catherine Woteki, dean of the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University and a professor of food science and human nutrition. Woteki chaired the American Society for Nutritional Sciences task force that wrote the report, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

"The nation's nutrition monitoring system is the foundation for federal policy and programs that affect millions of people," said Woteki. "Recently, the system was responsible for identifying evidence of the epidemic of obesity in children."

Data gathered from federal surveys, which began in the 1930s, are used to develop human nutrition and food safety policies, evaluate the effectiveness of food and nutrition programs and conduct research.

The task force reports that the current system is threatened because of inadequate funding and recent changes that may limit the surveys' usefulness and timeliness.

"Without this system, our nutritional programs, food safety system and health intervention programs are placed at risk," said Woteki. "One of our main conclusions is that stable funding must be secured to continue current and planned nutrition monitoring programs."

The task force examined the current status and future plans of the network of federal surveys and surveillance programs, known as the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Program. The U. S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services conduct the surveys.

In 1990, Congress passed legislation to strengthen the monitoring system by requiring better coordination and oversight, but several provisions have not been funded or carried out, the task force reported.

In the past decade, the number of Americans participating in the surveys has dramatically decreased, the report stated. Two of the largest surveys have been combined, reducing the number of people surveyed by half.

The report calls for Congress to reauthorize legislation for the monitoring system and to increase funding to improve the system.

"Nutrition monitoring and surveillance are fundamental functions of government, and need to be well-supported," Woteki said. "The most compelling argument is the number of policies, programs, regulations and standards that rely on survey data.

"As the country continues to base more of its food, environmental and health policies on risk assessments and cost-benefit studies, there will be an increasing need for data on dietary intake and nutritional health obtained from the U.S. population," she said.

A summary of the task force's report is available online at

With 3,500 members, the American Society for Nutritional Sciences is a research society dedicated to improving the quality of life through the science of nutrition.


Catherine Woteki, Agriculture, (515) 294-2518
Brian Meyer, Agriculture Communication, (515) 294-5616
Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778