It has long been known that malnutrition limits the development of societies. In a somewhat ominous and complex constellation of relationships, inadequate food and water increasingly are being recognized as causes, as well as results, of armed conflict. There is little ambiguity about the fact that the vast majority of peoples who are caught in civil war, chronic domestic tension, and international conflict—in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa—are quite simply hungry and thirsty (WHO, 2009).

High infant mortality, vulnerability to illness, increased risk of infection, poor wound healing, and developmental impediments are just a few of the biomarkers of chronic malnutrition (Mason et al., 1996). Today, there are more than 1 billion individuals (>12% of the global population) who live in chronic hunger, and the situation continues to worsen due, in part, to a volatile food commodities market (FAO, 2010).

The term “food insecure” is disturbingly common in the literature of geopolitical realities, defense, diplomacy, and development. In a grotesque and dynamic equilibrium, hunger and thirst are likely to serve as cause and effect in a cycle of poverty and strife. At this very moment, as the United States confronts situations in which political progress in Iraq and Afghanistan remains frustrating, Pakistan appears to be literally drowning in floodwaters, the people of Haiti continue to starve, and the desperate poverty in Somalia fuels piracy on the high seas, we are viscerally struck by the need to respond. There is a need to speak out on behalf of a world food industry that is awake and cares, an industry that is responding to domestic obesity and global hunger in careful coordination with ongoing joint volunteer civilian and military operations.

With the excitement of emerging sciences within such multidisciplinary paradigms as nutrigenomics and epigenetics, it is tempting to speculate about the following very broad question: Can inadequate exposure to protein, vitamins, and/or minerals, while certain key developmental or receptive genetic windows may be open, have an impact in later development of a psychosocial repertoire? Will nutrigenomics and epigenetics ultimately shape a collective cognitive style in terms of behaviors, including approaches to intimate dyadic relations within a family, entrenched hostility, territoriality, and dispute management, at a much higher scale?

From this admittedly high-altitude perspective, it may be useful to come down and examine some nutritional specifics of problems, rational interventions, and anticipated outcomes. Among these outcomes are novel, adequate, and balanced protein sources that have a culturally acceptable flavor profile and beverages with key vitamins and minerals in a rehydration matrix that includes iodine, iron, vitamin A, vitamin D and calcium, and possible probiotic organisms in clinically effective doses.

Recognizing the magnitude of the problem, the U.S. government, specifically the Task Force for Business & Stability Operations, has conceived and embarked upon “stability operations.” These joint civilian-military and multi-agency operations refer to the efforts through which preconditions for sustained economic and human development are created.

Apart from stimulating and promoting private sector investment and market opportunities, enhanced humanitarian efforts are encouraged as a means to support transition to sustainable development in post-conflict regions. These humanitarian efforts should include rebuilding and revitalizing local academic and professional structures, which specifically train local nationals to run businesses, including those that define food processing. We have proposed and initiated an array of coordinated and progressive involvement of the food industry together with the medical profession. Incentivizing, guiding, and generally supporting food production and processing not only stimulates economies and cultural self-esteem, but directly places public health nutrition with medical intervention at the forefront of domestic priorities.

In our project in Iraq, a free-standing clinic dedicated to leukemia treatment is being designed with our Iraqi partners. This program will be state-of-the-art in cancer treatment and recovery as well as nutritional and nutrigenomic support for diabetes care. We anticipate findings from this pilot project will be applied to management of pediatric cancer among the underserved in the United States and possibly to improved diagnosis and care of Gulf War veterans. This is an opportunity to make a significant health care change at the interface of food science, nutrition, and medicine.

References cited in this article are available from the authors.

by Roger Clemens, Dr.P.H.,
Contributing Editor 
Scientific Advisor,
ETHorn, La Mirada, Calif. 
[email protected]

by Peter Pressman, M.D.,
Contributing Editor
LCDR, Medical Corps,
U.S. Navy, Director Expeditionary Medicine,
Task Force for Business & Stability Operations
[email protected]