Message from the Director

The time is now to spread the message of better nutrition

Dr. Thornburg

Over the past 25 years, there has been a steep rise in the number of people living in Oregon who have become obese or diabetic. Diabetes prevalence has more than doubled among Oregon adults during the past two decades with rates currently ranging from 4 to 15.7 percent in Oregon counties. In addition, thousands of Oregonians have prediabetes, a precursor to the disease, or have undiagnosed diabetes. These twin scourges of obesity and diabetes will lead to increased suffering of Oregonians, hugely increased needs for medical care and unprecedented increases in medical expenses over the next two decades.

At a recent annual meeting of the National Academy of Medicine, national leaders in science and medicine heard Margaret Chan, M.D., Director-General of the World Health Organization, reveal how these conditions are worsening in low and middle income countries across the globe. A glimpse of hope came from William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who noted that the steep rise in diabetes rates has plateaued in some states or even decreased slightly in the past few years. Even with that note of optimism, we have not yet made a significant dent in the problem.

Why are we in this predicament? All experts agree that while there is no simple answer, several causes are clear. People of all ages have become less physically active with technology, modernization and loss of physical education and recess in schools. An even bigger culprit is the worsening quality of the American diet, which is now disparagingly called the "western diet." Over the last three generations, people have increasingly obtained their needed calories from highly processed foods, fast foods and sugar-laden drinks, all of which inflict harm to the human body. These food items, engineered to be delicious and irresistible, are now the essence of our food culture. Chronic diseases will continue to dominate our lives as long as these two problems are ignored.

You might also ask why people are more likely to get these diseases now. Recent research shows that when people have poor nutrition before birth and as infants they are 5 to 10 times more likely to become obese or diabetic. Oregon's children, the third generation to eat mostly processed foods, are the most likely generation ever to become obese or diabetic. In other words, people in this generation are now highly vulnerable for developing a chronic disease as they continue to consume the western diet because of the food environment created and consumed by the previous generations. This is a shocking new fact that is not well understood by statewide leaders developing programs and policies to improve the health of our communities.

What next? The Moore Institute is committed to helping Oregonians to understand the scientific information that shows how diets of parents and grandparents are passed down to children and grandchildren to make them more likely to suffer a chronic disease. Now is the time for Oregon leaders in communities across the state to join forces in changing the food culture and making it possible, especially for young men and women, to have healthy diets and to bear healthy babies that will be resistant to disease as adults. During the upcoming year the Moore Institute will be devoted to sharing new scientific information with leaders across the state so that we can all work together to make Oregon the healthiest place to live. Keep your eye out for our new initiatives.


Kent L. Thornburg, Ph.D.
Director, OHSU Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness