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Scientist in the Spotlight: Steven Clinton on Shaping the Dietary Guidelines

Steven ClintonLast week cancer researcher Steven Clinton, MD, PhD, joined the other 14 newly appointed experts for the first meeting of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group whose recommendations will shape the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Updated every five years, the Dietary Guidelines serve as the foundation for national nutrition programs, standards and education.

We at AICR want to congratulate all the prestigious experts serving on the Committee, a group appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While many have worked on how diet links to chronic disease, Clinton has focused much of his research on cancer prevention and has supported our work over the years.

Clinton began working with AICR more than 10 years ago. Clinton, a former AICR grantee, was a reviewer for AICR/WCRF’s 2007 expert report and is currently an expert panelist on our Continuous Update Project (CUP). He also served on the CUP committee that addressed how to review mechanisms research and will be discussing this work at our annual research conference in November 2013.

An oncologist and researcher, Clinton is a Professor in the Division of Medical Oncology at The Ohio State University School of Medicine. He served on the Institute of Medicine committee to review dietary reference intakes for vitamin D and calcium, whose findings were published in 2011.

We wanted to find out from Clinton what it meant to be part of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and how the guidelines might affect cancer prevention.

Q: Congratulation on your appointment. As a researcher in cancer prevention, why is it important to you to be a part of shaping the Dietary Guidelines?
A: Indeed, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are expected to have impact from a public health perspective. Given the enormous burden of cancer to society due to costs of diagnosis and treatment, the loss of productivity, and early mortality, it is clear that cancer remains a public health concern. Thus, the role of diet and nutrition in the risk and prevention of cancer is very relevant to the mission of the 2015 advisory committee.
Q: You had mentioned earlier that the recent study on adherence to WCRF/AICR guidelines and lower mortality risk was “landmark” and will be relevant to your work on the Committee. Can you explain?

A: Thankfully, AICR has been instrumental in evaluating the literature in the field of diet, nutrition, and cancer, most critically through the 1997 and 2007 comprehensive reports, and through the continuous update reports that are ongoing. Based upon the thorough review of the research, AICR has been able to establish evidence-based recommendations for the public that are designed to serve as a foundation for cancer prevention.

The potential benefit of adherence to these recommendations is supported by the new publication that is derived from the EPIC [The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition] study, which is a superb collaborative effort by the European Community.

Q: Are there standout findings in the diet-cancer prevention field we now know that were not a part of the last set of guidelines?

A: It is premature to speculate as the process to accumulate and review high quality published literature, combined with new data from NIH and USDA (such as NHANEs), is only beginning at this time. In addition, the data on diet and cancer will need to be integrated with information regarding other health outcomes in order to formulate the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

Certainly, the data continues to accumulate from laboratory studies, clinical investigation, and epidemiologic studies, with each of these fields providing higher quality data due to technological and methodological advances in recent years.

One area that I see emerging as very important for the future is the emphasis on dietary patterns as opposed to focus upon single nutrients, foods or dietary components. Clearly, we need to understand how the many components of the human diet integrate and interact to impact health and longevity.
Q: You served on the AICR Cancer Survivorship Committee. Do you see survivors as being one of the specific populations that the new Dietary Guidelines can help?

A. As the population ages the cancer burden increases, and thankfully we are making some progress in the efficacy of treatment, thus we have a rapidly growing population of cancer survivors.

Although I do strongly feel that the Dietary Guidelines for America and the AICR/WCRF recommendations are a foundation for a healthy cancer survivorship, many of the issues that impact a cancer survivor are somewhat unique to each cancer or individual. For example, surgical resection of parts of the gastrointestinal tract as part of curative interventions for cancers of the esophagus, stomach, or colon may each have specific and unique diet and nutrition interventions that are necessary to promote health and survivorship. Thus, organizations such as AICR must continue to support the research of specific survivor subgroups in order to personalize our recommendations more precisely.

Q: Have you seen the research in diet and survivors grow over the years?
A: We do see a greater interest in cancer survivorship in recent years, but unfortunately we are also in a phase where the traditional funding from the National Institutes of Health is declining due to a Congress that simply does not see the value of investment in biomedical research. Thus, we are very grateful that philanthropic organizations such as AICR/WCRF are taking an active interest in this field.
Q: As an expert panelist on the CUP, how do you see this project informing your work on the Advisory Committee?

A: AICR/WCRF’s Continuous Update Project is a valuable resource for this committee to utilize, as these efforts represent a very thorough and detailed analysis of the quality data that has accumulated in the field of diet, nutrition and cancer. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to assist AICR/WCRF in this effort as well and help define high priority areas for future research.
For the complete list of experts appointed to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, here’s the announcement from the Department of Health & Human Services.

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