Since I put up my first post about NuSi (Nutrition Science Initiative), I’ve had various correspondence with co-founder Peter Attia, MD (co-founder with Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat) by phone and email.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to head up to Menlo Park to meet him for dinner at Left Bank. I assure you that the 3-hour conversation that ensued was far more interesting in every way than anything I heard on the drive up on the radio, between the two guys vying for the position of second-in-command to rule your life.
While I outline some of my reservations and hopes in that last post, I did want to emphasize that I’m enthusiastic and supportive. Really, how could you fault more science being done? Even when science is done badly, there still remains something of knowledge—and if nothing else, an example of how not to do science, or better spend money doing research. I think they are committed to doing gold standard science and research. I’m sure of it.
But yea, it all comes down to money. Research is expensive. Peter presented a pretty clear picture along these lines. It’s like a reverse triangle.
Incidence vs. Money Spent on Research
In essence, take adverse health incidence on the left, bottom up from lowest to highest, and while not perfect, what you find is somewhat of an inverse relationship with money spent on research (to the right), where some of the lowest occurring problems (breast cancer, HIV, for example) get the most funds (by incidence and I believe, in absolute terms in some cases).
The rate of obesity is about 30% in the US. By far and away the largest single health problem facing America. Spending, as I recall Peter telling me, is on the order of $4 per person; whereas, other conditions with far fewer afflicted are researched on the order of $40-50 per (again, not sure if this was by individual afflicted, or per American). This was a conversation over the course of dinner and that figure above was sketched out on the white paper table covering. My purpose is not to lay out concrete numbers and make a huge distinction, but simply to illustrate that obesity research could use more bucks, they wish to do it privately, and if lots of people pitch in at small amounts some things could really get looked at that haven’t before.
Alas, I have it as a side project to begin looking into specific numbers for disease and obesity vs. research funding. I’d also like to break that down into public vs. private funding. Seems to me that private funding for breast cancer research might be a model to look at. I’ve heard for years, for example, that prostrate cancer in men is nearly as prevalent but receives a pittance of funding comparatively. I’ve never looked into those numbers myself. I think I’m going to spend some time on all of that.
Another thing. As much as I hate to see all the football players wearing pink on an entire Sunday, I must admit that private funding is better than coerced public funding via tax dollars where the majority is almost certainly squandered. Private funding engenders accountability and I’m sure that a lot of private donors are satisfied with something on the order of 80% going to the actual research (10% administrative, 10% rolled back in for fund raising). I’m just guessing at those numbers, having just begun to think about everything required to raise funds privately (i.e., citizens: not industry; not government)
…I got an intro into the research path, which is complex—research feeding more research. As I recall, about three studies should be up and running in months.
Over the course of this conversation Peter said that one of the things that makes obesity research hard to fund is the general notion that they are seen as gluttonous and slothful (…no, that’s only the small minority who go get themselves scooters to ride around on when they don’t need to, exacerbating their condition).
OK, but my immediate objection was: then what about HIV research that gets tons of money? By and large, those afflicted engage in well known risk behavior, two kinds of which—IV drug use with used needles and unprotected anal sex—people find disagreeable by various degree. The simple answer is that fat people aren’t organizing and agitating for funds. What else could it be?
For me? The best way to get sympathy and get pockets opening for dollars to do research is to focus on childhood obesity, diabetes and NAFLD. No one can argue that they are wholly innocent—and who know now much of the eventual sypathy for HIV wasn’t over children being born with it!
So what’s really the point of doing the research? I can’t speak for NuSI of course, but I have an idea. They’re not looking for new drug therapies. Research isn’t going to be funded by FD[A] companies (get it?).
In perhaps the most right-before-your-eyes realization during our conversation, Peter asked me to consider the HIV infection rates in places like Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho. About 25%. 1 in 4! How about the US? About one-half of one percent. 1 in 200. What accounts for the difference? Is HIV genetically different over there? Does it act on them differently? (Answer: no)
Now, consider that the obesity rate in the US is 34%. But then take a look at a list of countries under 5%.
I ask you again: does food metabolize differently over there? Are they genetically different to such an extent that their genes change when they immigrate to America and many get fat?
So I think that the purpose of NuSI is to conduct the research that can finally, authoritatively give solid insight into the causes of obesity so that people can generally follow it. And a potential bright side too, is that boxed, bagged and canned food companies will want to make a buck off that; and while their wares will never be even the better choice, it will be better than the cheap grain and sugar, engineered stuff they’re selling now.
…HIV infection is low in America because people have no doubt that it’s transmitted by blood-to-blood contact and they know how to avoid it. This is not the case in Africa with all their tribal myths and the “great work” of the Catholic Church to dissuade condom use—and whatever else the hell is going on there. Conversely, Americans are fat because they eat too much, and they eat too much because they eat the kinds of engineered foods that tend to be both psychologically addictive and dysregulating of appetite and fat storage and mobilization hormones (i.e., both Taubes and Guyenet are right).
NuSI has been initially funded but it’s going to take more. I’m going to be thinking about how to help them in raising funds going forward, but here’s the donate page. I stepped up to the plate today. Won’t you? I’ve asked that they consider adding a monthly subscription option so that you can just set up for your once per month equivalent of a Venti, sugar-free, non-fat, vanilla soy, double shot, decaf, no foam, extra hot, Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with light whip and extra syrup…and be done with it.