What happens when you take a guy out of Montana and turn him loose in the streets of Beverly Hills? A great learning experience…

Michael Milken of the Institute (second from left) with "Prevention and Wellness" panelists (from left) Troyen Brennan of CVS Caremark, CDC Director Thomas Frieden and Lynn Goldman of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Image via Milken Institute.
Michael Milken of the Institute (second from left) with “Prevention and Wellness” panelists (from left) Troyen Brennan of CVS Caremark, CDC Director Thomas Frieden and Lynn Goldman of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Image via Milken Institute.

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Milken Institute Global Conference at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, California. Read more about my initial response in an earlier post. This conference was a definitely eye-opener on several topics, including health, nutrition, and wellness from the perspectives of which I do not always have the opportunity to experience.

The three-day conference consisted on a number of topics from business, economics, financials, health, and wellness. As expected, I attended several of the panels that touched on the health and wellness topics where the issues of food and wellness were of great importance. However, rather than my usual conversations that center around the debate of production methods, these conversations looked at food production from a business perspective, rather than producer vs. consumer perspectives, as is usually the case in my experiences.

Only 4 cents of healthcare dollar spent on prevention

The ties between health, wellness, and food are of great importance to those involved in the global markets and healthcare initiatives. As expected, on each panel, there was an individual who wished to harp on the importance of antibiotic (mis)use in livestock, but surprisingly, that was not the overarching objective for the majority of panelists, in fact, they often shied away from that aspect of the discussion. Most of the panelists discussions focused on the need for better stewardship within our health care system and the need for more focus on wellness programs rather than the historic emphasis on finding cures for illnesses.

70% of all healthcare costs can be attributed to lifestyle choices.

We’re not talking one method of food production versus the other, but rather the choice for a more active lifestyle with food choices guided toward a more balanced diet. This seemed to be more of a concern than the use of antibiotics in livestock or the choice of certain food production practices.

Intensification. Innovation. Integration.

Of particular interest was a panel on the second day focused on the topic of food security. I don’t know about you, but when I think of “food insecurity”, the image comes to mind of a poverty-stricken small town where the only available food source is the service station that contains more food from Hostess and Frito Lay than it does cooking ingredients. I grew up near such a town and have seen several in my travels across rural portions of this country.

However, this panel on Food Security had a much more global perspective than what I’m used to. The Minister of Agriculture from Nigeria left a message heavy on the importance of infrastructure for the development of agriculture in his country. The ability to grow, harvest, and market commodities in Nigeria is something we often take for granted here in the States. Next to infrastructure, we saw the importance of technologies to advance their ability to grow food and utilize resources effectively.

On this panel were several entrepreneurs in the food business who placed significant emphasis on the importance of using genetics and technology to improve yields and precision to be innovative with food production in insecure countries.

60% of growth in global food demand will be in the form of animal protein – meat, milk, eggs.

We’ve heard it time and time again about the importance of growing food for a global population, feeding 9 billion people by the year 2050. But have you thought about the types of food that will be required for that? Have you considered the type of food people will be demanding? People often get into arguments about the need for use of conventional agriculture or GMOs to feed this growing population, but the fact of the matter, when you start looking at the demographics, is that the largest increase in food needs will be through protein resources. Not only will the growing middle classes in Asia be demanding more protein, but this is also a critical food source for proper development and advancements of societies. Animal protein sources, include milk, eggs and meat, improve cognitive ability and development for many individuals who have not had access to adequate nutrition throughout their lives.

Address challenges, talk about successes

It can be very easy for folks to focus on the negativity surrounding health, wellness, and our food supply, but when you look at it from others’ perspectives, the experience can be quite eye-opening. If you were to look at all the diseases that were addressed, controlled, and eliminated during the 20th century, there are great signs of progress being made.

I guess my biggest take away from these sessions was the importance of looking at things from a broader context. We may have abundant food here in the States, which makes it easy to focus on the negativity or be “food snobs”, but when we step back and realize the help that is needed around the world, we have definite contributions that can be made. Not everyone is concerned about this type of food production versus another, but rather the larger conversation is about making wiser personal health decisions which includes more balanced diets, more active lifestyles, and better stewardship of the tools we’re utilizing.

A special thanks to the team at Elanco for inviting me and making this experience possible. These folks are passionate about food security on a global level and are doing great things with their #FeedThe9 campaign. I encourage you to check it out.

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