Report outlines new recipe to nourish and nurture UK nutrition research

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Nutrition Health

New proposals aimed at revolutionising nutrition research in the United Kingdom identifies basic understanding of nutrition and its translation to healthier products is beginning to fall behind.

The findings​ point to fewer younger scientists entering the field and experienced researchers approaching retirement, as factors that exacerbate the problem.

In response, its authors, The Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), have come up with a three key areas of action designed to address these issues.

As well as the formation of a UK nutrition and human health research partnership the review also looks to further developing plans for global nutrition research.

However, an increased emphasis on strengthening links with the food industry is of notable interest as the review believes that to truly understand the nutrition ecosystem, industry must be seen as part of the solution.

“Partnership with the food/nutrition science industry is vital so that research can lead to healthier products and improved nutritional support,” ​the authors said.

“This partnership must be governed by clear principles for engagement.  The MRC is working with key stakeholders to build on its existing guidance in this area by developing a framework for engagement between researchers and industry.”

Dutch dilemma

The report’s release corresponds to an editorial​ published in the European Journal of Nutrition​, in which Dutch scientists claim nutritional research has simply not kept up with the times.

They commented that the capability of nutrition science to contribute to real-world health was restricted in three main ways: by the questions pursued, the technical and methodological characteristics of current approaches and the organisation of nutrition science.

The formation of a research partnership, as outlined in this latest report, goes some way to addressing the Dutch scientists’ concerns.

The partnership intends to gather experts from academia, health research and industry to develop and realise an implementation plan for the review recommendations. 

One main area of focus looks at the scientific research challenges such as linking cohorts to interventional nutritional research; linking nutritional epidemiology to mechanistic understanding; and looking at longer-term solutions to fundamental problems such as standardising measures. 

Any outcomes will feed into decision-making bodies, devolved health administrations and policy units, and inform industry and public guidance.

“The UK has a well-earned reputation for its nutrition research but we are in danger of falling behind if we don’t consolidate our strengths and build up capacity in key areas,” ​said professor Chris Day, vice-chancellor and president of Newcastle University, who chaired the review.

“A new nutrition research partnership will identify challenges in the area and then direct resources to meet those challenges. Most importantly, it will inform policy. 

“Working more closely with industry partners will provide opportunities to build capacity in the field, enhance the sharing of expertise and resources, and ensure that excellent nutrition science is available to all.” 

Realising report's potential 

On a global level, the partnership also looks to launch new funding opportunities in conjunction with Research Councils, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Department of Health (DH).

The approach will link groups that have expertise in working with countries such as The Netherlands, Germany and Spain alongside nutrition researchers in the UK and in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Groups not normally involved in LMIC research or even nutrition will be given opportunities to form new partnerships and seed small projects.

"The report highlights the huge potential of building on this for the benefit of the health and wellbeing of the public - both nationally and globally,”​ said Dr Louise Wood, director of Science, Research & Evidence at the Department of Health.

In welcoming the report, she added that ”to realise its potential, we shall be working with a range of stakeholders and, via NIHR, with other research funders including industry to take forward the recommendations."

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