How to make science-based nutrition sexy? Change the tech, before tech changes nutrition

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Miriam Doerr
Getty | Miriam Doerr
The world of nutrition has evolved faster than education or legislation and it’s time for nutrition experts to be at the forefront of new technologies set to shake the industry, because if you can’t beat them, you have to join them.

This is the view of Mariette Abrahams, owner of personalised nutrition business consultancy Qina Consulting​, who has developed and delivered a university module called 'Business innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship' at St Mary’s University, London, to better prepare nutritionists and dietitians to enter the modern world of tech-driven nutrition.

She admits the rate that tech is evolving to influence nutrition is ‘scary’ and argues nutrition experts need to dive into the world of innovation if they want to have a real impact on nutrition in the future.

“We have to put ourselves out there,” ​she says. “If you don’t get involved in creating  the technology, the technology will direct you and you will be left fighting, being the ‘expert’, and saying ‘that’s not how we would practice’, without having any real impact on the industry.

 “The key is, when you finish your nutrition degree there are other options to joining the NHS or setting up your own private practice.

“Technology offers great opportunities and the potential to drive improved health outcomes. You can pitch yourself to these companies as you have the nutrition expertise they need and you should be there at the beginning of the ideation, driving the recommendations and algorithms.

“We are the ones with the nutrition expertise and we understand food behaviour, physiology, biochemistry and what people do in their real lives.

“Don’t compete with the tech, work alongside it and add value to consumers in new ways. We need to be there at the beginning to make the tech fit our practice, our ethics and beliefs to make credible nutrition information available to all.”

Exciting and scary

The Nutrition business consultant and PhD candidate says AI and wearable tech are the most ‘obvious’ tech developments that will influence how nutrition experts practice in the future as it will allow experts to understand what the person does in their everyday life and support people to make necessary changes in the moments that it’s needed based on data.

She adds: “I’m excited about that but I’m also very scared it’s going to be very biased if we don’t have the regulatory oversight.

“We need to become the expert mediators and trusted resource for both consumers and tech companies. For this to happen we need to stay abreast of advances in tech and lead research.” 

Abrahams adds that ‘data is the new currency’ and health experts need to help companies understand where there are gaps in their data and to help them identify potential biases, based on what data the consumer is willing to share and how that might influence nutrition recommendations.

“We can’t simply compete with a computer because we can’t give the same information that a computer spits out, but we need to develop the creative problem solving, leadership, online communication and data-analytics skills in order to add additional value moving forward in a digital era.”

“We know that behaviour change is the most difficult thing to influence and even if you have the best tech you still won’t necessarily be able to change a person’s behaviour to have a lasting effect on their health.

"Understanding the subtle nuances and combining that nutrition expertise with tech, that is the most important factor and has great potential.”

Experts versus influencers

Her comments come after Nutraingredients Editor Nikki Cutler published an opinion piece questioning how nutrition experts can compete with social media 'influencers' who are increasingly chosen as the spokespeople for nutrition and health innovations, leaving the experts trying to contend false information quickly being shared across the masses.

Discussing this issue, Abrahams says: “The influencers have a big following so you can understand  companies choosing them. The problem is, if we put rubbish information into these new technologies, then rubbish will come out and the people most at risk are those who most need the help.

"This is not to say all influencers are not credible, I am saying we need validation, research and oversight if we are going to make recommendations that are personalised ”

Abrahams believes nutritionists and dietitians need to be better trained in the world of technology innovations that will impact nutrition practice such as bio-informatics, data science, machine learning to give them the skills and understanding to get involved in tech-enabled personalised nutrition.

She points out that after starting her career in clinical and medical nutrition, she realised her interest lay in business and new innovations  and that the future of nutrition would be in tech- enabled personalised nutrition. lie.

“Health experts should be pro-actively finding out the trends of what is happening outside the  nutrition world and thinking about how this could influence them in the future.

“Every technology, from chatbots to AI may not be having an impact right now, but the technology is evolving so fast it could have an influence much sooner than we think!.”

Don't fight it

Abrahams adds that nutrition experts need to be careful not to dismiss new tech, but instead try to make their guidance work in tandem with these innovations where relevant, as consumers are looking for solutions to save time, make healthier choices  and in general make their life easier around food decisions without too much effort.  

 “We are going to get people coming to us who are already using these technologies or looking for technologies to make their lives easier and therefore nutritionists need to be involved in the development of the technologies and know what is available.

“We need to understand what platforms people are using and why to make their lives easier and how we can structure our recommendations according to what they are using or are willing to use.”

Abrahams has developed a four-day intensive module for St Mary’s University’s MSc in Nutrition & Genetics programme directed by Dr Yiannis Mavvrommatis. The module aims to provide nutrition students with entrepreneurial and leadership skill  to prepare  them for the modern world of nutrition where they will be more closely working with tech companies or starting their own businesses.

She will be speaking on the legal oversight and current challenges  in personalised nutrition as well as sharing her PhD research at the next Eurofir and Quisper symposium to be held on 19th​ June in Brussels. The meeting will be attended by companies, policy makers, practitioners and educators



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