| Food Composition Data: A User's Perspective (1987) |
The United Nations University was founded by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1975 to help solve the pressing global problems of human survival and welfare through the instruments of scholarship - research, training, and dissemination of knowledge. From the start, food and nutrition have been major areas of involvement, with the funding of research into human requirements, the advanced training of workers from developing countries in various fields of nutrition and food science, and the sponsoring of workshops and symposia on a range of related subjects.
It was realized early that good, readily available data on the composition of foods consumed by man were essential for all of these activities, as well as for many others in the international world of trade, research, and assistance. The amount, quality, and availability of these data vary between and within countries and regions. Moreover, for no area is there a body of data that users feel is totally adequate for their needs - in that accurate, accessible data simply do not exist for most of the foods of the world. In early 1983 the United Nations University organized a small gathering of international experts in Bellagio, Italy, to assess the status and problems of food composition data, explore what could be done, and plan its execution. This meeting, attended by representatives of international agencies and scientific unions, government agencies, and individuals from the academic community, was sponsored by the United States government, the food industry, and private foundations. The group recommended the formation of INFOODS (the International Network of Food Data Systems) to stimulate and co-ordinate efforts to improve the status of food composition data around the world. Work got formally under way in the summer of 1984 with the establishment of a secretariat at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, funded primarily by the United States government (NCI, NHLBI, USDA, and FDA), but with additional funding from industry and private foundations, and administrative assistance from the United Nations University.
One of the first activities that INFOODS felt necessary was a careful assessment of the needs of the food composition data user community, of whether these needs were or were not being satisfied by the present data systems and what the users saw as solutions to their problems. To effect this, INFOODS designed a conference on Users and Needs of Food Composition Data to bring together a number of individuals involved with different aspects of food composition data; it was planned as a collaboration between the INFOODS secretariat and Utah State University, with the major responsibility for organization being assumed by Professor Gaurth Hansen and his associates, Professors Carol Windham and Bonita Wyse of Utah State University. The conference took place from 26 to 29 March 1985 on the campus of Utah State University in Logan, Utah, and the major goal was to discuss and document the current situation and thinking about food composition data systems. As this document attests, the conference was very successful, both in defining the needs of the user community and in indicating how INFOODS should try to satisfy them. Although INFOODS' ultimate goal of making food composition data complete, accurate, and available is still a long way off, this conference has made an auspicious start.
Nevin S. Scrimshaw,
Development Studies Division,
United Nations University