Nutrition Initiative to Fund Exacting Research in What Makes Us Fat

9/25/12Follow @bvbigelow

What better place to meet Peter Attia, president of San Diego’s recently unveiled Nutritional Science Initiative (NuSI), than at our “Meet the Xconomist” reception, where invited leaders of San Diego’s innovation community kibitzed while nibbling appetizers?

Before co-founding NuSi (pronounced Nu-see) with the science writer Gary Taubes, Attia worked at McKinsey & Co. as a healthcare and corporate risk consultant. He previously spent five years at the Johns Hopkins Hospital as a general surgery resident. With $5 million in seed funding from the John and Laura Arnold Foundation, Taubes and Attia say their initiative is intended to dramatically reduce the economic and social burden of obesity and obesity-related diseases by significantly improving nutrition science.

Taubes, a science and health journalist now researching health policy at U.C. Berkeley, has been arguing in his books and magazine articles that the type of calories consumed is far more critical in the progression to obesity than the total number of calories consumed. He contends that the conventional wisdom about nutrition is flawed—and so confused by misinformation—that the time has come to seek some unambiguous clarity about what makes us fat.

In our brief conversation, Attia said the state of nutrition science today is about where our understanding of gravity was when Isaac Newton watched an apple fall out of a tree. We can see that nutrition has an effect on obesity—just as people could see that gravity acts in some way on everything and everyone around us. But how, exactly, does it work?

“We’re never going to figure out what’s going on at this nth-degree level,” Attia said, “unless we can quantify it at the cellular level.” For example, he says one basic question that needs to be answered is what makes a fat cell store or release fat.

“We’re so obsessed with why people are becoming obese, why do people get … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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