A new institute in the Texas A&M University System aims to connect agriculture and health in an effort to reduce chronic illness attributed to diet.
The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved the formation of the Institute for Precision Nutrition, Responsive Agriculture and Health last week. The institute will be led by Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
Patrick Stover, director for AgriLife Research, said Texas can serve as a model for the world on how to lower diet-related health care costs.
"There is no state that is better positioned or has more at stake in bringing agriculture and human health together, and that's what we're going to do," Stover said.
Stover said the institute will initially hire about a dozen faculty members and begin its work by next summer.
"What this institute seeks to do is to try and make reforms across the entire food system -- not segmenting the food system, but taking a holistic look at the food system and develop the research that we need to better align what our food supply is with consumer needs, particularly their health needs," Stover said.
The institute will be comprised of five multidisciplinary research hubs. The network of hubs will carry out specific roles within the institute in the areas of precision technology, data collection and analysis, responsive agriculture, human behavior and biomedical analysis.
"The hubs will be led by faculty from the agency and other A&M System members," Stover said. "And new faculty will be recruited to lead some of the hubs." He said long-term plans will likely call for new buildings to support the institute's work, and that the institute would use existing space in the meantime.
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said the institute will become a guiding force in the U.S. for nutrition, food system and agricultural policy.
"The new institute will forge together the linkages between food and nutrition, spanning a variety of research disciplines in finding solutions to make us healthier and reduce overall annual health care costs," Sharp said in a news release announcing the venture.
Stover said diet-related chronic diseases cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion annually, and nearly half of U.S. adults have been treated for a chronic disease.
"It's a national crisis," Stover said. "There is a big movement, or at least a recognition, that we need to bring together agriculture to be the answer to the health care crisis we have today."
An analytical core area of the institute will assess food quality and could lead to a "Healthy Texas" food label, Stover said.
A second core area will study consumer preferences.
Stover said the institute's partners include the Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine; Technische Universität, Braunschweig, Germany; and The Microsoft Research -- University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology in Italy.
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