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KNOXVILLE — Nine out of 10 people with chronic disease have a condition that could be improved with nutrition intervention, a University of Tennessee professor told a Senate committee recently.

Dr. Jane White, professor of family medicine and a registered dietitian, testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. White is a technical advisor to the Nutrition Screening Initiative (NSI), a broad coalition of health care organizations led by the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“Through my work with older adults, practicing physicians, medical students, and residents, I have seen the critical role nutrition plays in maintaining the health and vitality of adults as they age,” White told the committee.

She said that proper nutrition plays a key role in the prevention and management of a wide range of conditions, including cardiovascular diseases; hypertension; congestive heart failure; abnormal levels of cholesterol and other lipids; stroke; diabetes; cancer; renal disease and osteoporosis.

“Medical nutrition therapy (MNT) also offers economic advantages to individuals as well as to the nation-s health care industry and the economy in general. Chronic diseases cost our country $300 billion annually — one third of U.S. health care expenditures,” White said. “The cost to Medicare is staggering, with 99 percent of all Medicare spending going to treat chronic illness. In addition, prescription drug costs are rising and patient use is skyrocketing. The number of older adults taking eight or more drugs has increased 50 percent since just three years ago.”

Nutrition strategies offer a cost-effective treatment alternative to prescription drug therapy, she noted. Nutrition intervention could save $52 to $168 million for older adults with hypertension, $54 to $164 million for high cholesterol and other lipid levels, and $132 to $330 million for diabetes.

White and other nutrition and fitness experts from across the country urged the committee to support programs that provide nutrition services for older adults, to enable nutrition research through adequate funding and to support graduate medical education in nutrition for residents and fellows in primary care specialties.