The service offered by the University of Reading in the UK forms part of its eatWellUK study that uses a simple web application designed to evaluate diet quality, generating a personalised nutrition report in the process.
“We have found the easy to use platform for personalized nutrition information more effective than general population recommendations for dietary change,” said Dr Faustina Hwang, an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Reading.
“We hope that new technologies like the EatWellUK app can make personalised nutrition advice more accessible to the wider public, and help people to have healthier diets.”
The idea that an individual’s DNA has an influence on nutritional intake or status leading to improved energy or healthier cholesterol levels is one that has been hinted out for the last fifteen years but has never quite reached fruition.
“Our understanding of the complex interactions between genes and dietary components and how these impact on disease risk is largely in its infancy,” explained Dr Hwang.
“Furthermore, results of trials exploring the impact of gene derived diets on behaviour change remain inconclusive.”
It has only been in the last two or three years that companies like Habit, Arivale, InsideTracker, DNAfit, DayTwo, and Nutrigenomix have stepped up with diagnostics, analytics and other technologies that could meet rising interest in wellbeing, longevity via an optimised diet.
EatWellUK’s web-based application uses insights gathered from the pioneering pan-European Food4Me study that found that gene-based personalised nutrition (PN) was equally as effective as PN based on dietary intake alone; when compared with standard population guidance.
“For this reason, our app focuses on providing members of the public will reliable PN advice based on their current dietary intake and habits,” said Dr Hwang. “We look forward to seeing how genomic-based services develop in the future.”
Trial titbits of info
Participants then take part in three online interactions, where they provide information (gender, age, height and weight) and complete a physical activity and a diet questionnaire again after six and 12 weeks.
Its design means the application is fully mobile with full browsing facilities available on different devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
“We are already working to improve the intelligence and capability of the app to recommend acceptable, easy-to-implement, personalised nutrition advice to the user,” explained Dr Hwang.
“We will also improve our models to suit a wider population group, including, for example, those with specific food allergies and intolerances.
“With further research and development, we hope that our app could eventually be available and appropriate to be used at population level at little or no cost to the individual. We will continue to work with consumers and healthcare professionals to achieve these goals.”
Motivation over the microbiome
In considering what an “optimal nutritional approach” is for each individual, twenty or so years of research has identified the host’s microbiome’s genetic, metabolic, and competitive mechanisms that affect the ‘nutritional status of the organism’.
However, Dr Hwang thought that the greatest challenge and what the team were focussed on was developing a model that encouraged individuals to change their dietary behaviour.
“It does not matter how complex or what factors the personalised nutrition advice is based on if someone isn't motivated to follow it,” she said.
How this was communicated was crucial, according to Dr Hwang, who thought that for more medicalised forms of personalised nutrition, such as a gene-based form, research has shown a lack of understanding among consumers that needs to be addressed.
She referred to one study that suggested a lack of understanding regarding the consequence of having a risk genotype may reduce the impact of gene-based personalised nutrition.
“Designing clear and accessible information plays an important role,” she added.
Volunteers interested in taking part in the trial can sign up online on the EatWellUK website.