UK’s Chief Medical Officer identifies personalised DNA-based dietary rules as key to better health

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/HYWARDS
©iStock/HYWARDS
The UK’s Chief Medical Officer believes technologies that combine nutritional guidelines, genetic information and behavioural science can ‘nudge’ individuals to achieve personal behaviour changes.

In her annual report​, Professor Dame Sally Davies cited personalised DNA-based dietary guidelines as an example of predictive analytics that ‘enable individuals to absorb the knowledge, be empowered and use it’.

“With the availability of more diverse data, such as the data that is now becoming available in UK Biobank, wearables, social media and a plethora of apps that track exercise, nutrition and vital signs, machine leaning can unravel a variety of determinants of health; not only clinical factors but also social, environmental, nutritional and behavioural factors,”​ she said.

“This provides the potential to identify and to personalise the determinants of health (risk factors) that go beyond well-known clinical markers.”

The report highlights DnaNudge technology as a commercial example of technology that harnesses information encoded in an individual’s DNA to provide the user with personalised, DNA-based dietary guidelines.

This genetic report enables users to learn about possible predispositions to metabolic traits such as sugar sensitivity.

‘A simple traffic light system’

Professor Sally Davies
Professor Dame Sally C Davies, the UK's Chief Medical Officer. ©SallyDavies

“The genetic results are combined with proprietary algorithms that integrate the latest nutrigenetic research, national dietary guidelines, and the nutritional information of thousands of food products,” ​the report explained.

“Users are able to scan food products to find out if they are recommended for them according to their DNA using a simple traffic light system; green for recommended, red for not recommended.”

This action is performed using the camera on a smart phone in the barcode scanning function of the DnaNudge app, or using the DnaBand, a quick, point-of-decision technology that has been integrated into a wearable.

If the user scans a ‘red’ product e.g. a chocolate bar, they will be recommended alternative chocolate bars that are more suited to their DNA.

The technology also integrates Social Media as a way to practice social accountability, where finding a genetic match of someone healthier can provide inspiration to make better food choices.

Through social networking and DNA traits, people can start connecting and comparing lifestyle options as well as genetics.

The shift in start-ups and established businesses looking at nutritional intervention in tackling T2 diabetes as well as improve bacterial abundance/diversity, reduced resting heart rate and improved deep sleep has tapped into consumer desire to lead healthy lifestyles and eat more healthily.

As well as DnaNudge, UK-based Kafoodle, is a food tech business that combines personalised meal planning with dietician dashboards to monitor nutritional needs.

OME health, a London-based start-up also follows a similar approach, offering personalised, science-based health plans built on a person’s gut microbiome, genetics, blood markers and other health data.

Infant and baby foods

Professor Davies, who has been Chief Medical Officer for England since June 2010, urged the HM Government to extend the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to sweetened milk-based drinks with added sugar and take action to eliminate added sugar in commercial infant and baby foods.

As one of the recommendations set out in the report: ‘Health 2040 – Better Health Within Reach’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last month that “We must get the food industry to stop thinking about profits and start playing their role as part of the community”.

“As a mother when I took jars of baby food off the shelf, I didn’t expect them to contain sugar and salt. We are giving our children a taste for something that will make them ill. We are beginning to make them overweight in their cradle.

“Politicians will be horrified at what the [food] industry is doing to our babies and infants.”

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