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Personalised nutrition ‘really works’: new research

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Personalised nutrition works: Professor John Mathers
Personalised nutrition works: Professor John Mathers

Related tags: Nutrition, Health, Genetics

New EU research shows that diets targeted at an individual’s specific needs –personalised nutrition – can improve health more than general nutrition advice, but the results are not improved by honing that advice based on people's phenotype (physiological characteristics) or genetic (DNA) make-up.

That's according to the findings of the EU’s Food4Me project, a web-based randomised controlled trial on personalised nutrition of 1,607 adults across Europe, outlined by Professor John Mathers, director of the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University, who led the project.

“The take home message is personalised nutrition works,”​ said Mathers. “We were able to improve the diet across the board in these seven European countries and the randomised personalised nutrition did better than those randomised to the conventional [general dietary advice] approach. But contrary to our original idea, we saw no added advantage from using phenotypic or genetic information.”

New public health strategy

Mathers noted that the EU was behind the US on personalised nutrition, which has just published a new public health strategy for nutrition based on this approach.

“I think we'll see from the government a push for personalisation and that provides opportunities for food manufacturers to come up with solutions that will meet the needs of particular population groups.”

Speaking at the New Frontiers in Food and Drink conference organised by Food Manufacture and sponsored by Lloyds Bank and Roythornes Solicitors in London last month, Mathers described how good diet helped to maintain health and reduce disease burden.

But, he noted that current public health strategies were having limited success in, for example, getting people to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The Food4Me project was designed to discover whether personalised nutrition could, in principle, do better by “moving away from this one-size-fits-all approach to giving everyone the same advice to an approach where the individual is central and we personalise the advice to the individual”, said Mathers.

‘Changing behaviours’

“It's all about changing behaviours and motivating people to make appropriate choices,”​ he added.

“We were particularly interested when we designed this study in the emerging evidence in the links between our genotype –our individual genetic variant  – and nutrition and how that influences health.

“By using genetic information, we might be able to identify the right diet for you and me through that personalisation. And by having information about our individual genetic make-up, it might motivate each of us to adopt healthier eating patterns.”

Another objective was to develop a system that emulated commercial internet-based systems to deliver interventions, he added. The results proved a high level of participant compliance.

The study was randomised to four treatments: level 0 (the control), generic dietary advice; level 1, personalisation based on analysis of their current diets; level 2, personalisation based on dietary and phenotype (body weight and measurement, blood samples, etc) analysis; and level 3, personalisation based on dietary, phenotype and genomic (DNA) analysis.

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