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Eating for the health of the next generation

Dr. Thornburg March was National Nutrition Month, and this year's theme was "Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right." Consumer research tells us that taste tops nutrition as the reason why one food is purchased over another. It's no surprise that the foods people enjoy are the ones they eat most.


As a society, we need to care about the foods our collective daughters are enjoying. The nutrition they receive is the key to the health of future generations. Research clearly shows that we can prevent chronic diseases - like diabetes, heart problems, even obesity - in future generations if women are surrounded by whole foods before, during and after pregnancy.

That bears repeating: we can prevent chronic diseases in future generations. Why is that? Because our genes aren't a rigid blueprint for health. They're a collection of infinite possibilities, switched on-or-off depending on the well-being your mother experienced around her pregnancy and on the nutrition and care you received through your second birthday. 

It doesn't take much to lock on to the enormous implications of this research. Reaching mothers-to-be with this nutritional message cannot start early enough. But changing how people eat is a formidable task. How do we get young women to enjoy the taste of eating right? There are simple yet powerful tools at everyone's disposal.

  • Set a good example by making informed food choices. The food others, particularly children, see us enjoying can help them develop sound eating habits and an enjoyment of nutritious foods.

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Eating many different foods helps maintain a well-balanced and interesting diet and can help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Did you know research shows that eating a wide-ranging diet while pregnant and breastfeeding helps babies to be open to a variety of tastes? They will be more likely to try and like new foods, growing into childhood and adulthood with healthy food preferences.

  • Share information. Pass on knowledge to others about why it's important for young women and everyone around them to eat healthily.

  • Support local food. Plant a garden (with others). Buy at your local farmers' market.

  • Advocate for policy changes. Support policies that will lead to increased access to healthy food and the development of healthy communities. We won't see large-scale changes in our health until we start making wide-ranging public health efforts that go beyond demanding individual good choices.

Let's show young women how tasty nutritious food can be and support their growth into healthy adults. There's no better investment in the health of tomorrow than in the well-being of young women today. 

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

This op-ed first appeared in the Oregonian on March 26, 2014.