The BBSRC, backed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Innovate UK, and the Medical Research Council (MRC), allocated close to £15 million to establish the Diet and Health Open Innovation Research Club (OIRC) last year.
The Diet and Health OIRC initiative has created six innovation hubs across the country, each a nexus of researchers, industry experts, and stakeholders in nutrition, food science, and behaviour analysis.
The hubs are designed to address key themes related to enhancing the nation's dietary landscape, with The BNF now being entrusted with the role of coordinating the hubs, and fostering dialogue among researchers, industry representatives, and policymakers while facilitating the development of transformative partnerships.
The BNF will also identify areas where innovation and transformative thinking are needed and support the development of open, transparent collaborative partnerships.
Dr. Ruth Nottingham, head of business engagement and intelligence at BBSRC stated: “The coordination by the British Nutrition Foundation will enhance connectivity across the innovation hubs and ensure the findings are shared across the food system”.
Sara Stanner, Science Director at the British Nutrition Foundation, emphasised the urgency of these new collaborations, stating that diet-related diseases are a global scourge demanding actionable solutions.
She stated: “Diet-related diseases are the major killers around the world and nutrition research has provided invaluable evidence to help us understand how what we eat and drink affects our health.
“To make a real impact this research must be translated into healthier and more sustainable products and improved nutrition.
"Collaborative working can influence the food chain from agriculture to products on shelves to unlock real-life benefits for people’s health and well-being.”
The ‘Innovation Hub for Enhancing Health and Nutrition through Biofortification’, at the Quadram Institute Bioscience, utilises its expertise in soil science, crop genetics, food innovation, and human health. This collaboration involves farmers, food producers, and retailers throughout the supply chain to investigate the enrichment of food and feed crops through biofortification.
At the University of Bristol, the ‘Consumer Lab' establishes connections between academia and industry to ensure the ongoing acceptance of health-promoting foods. This is achieved through innovative data collection techniques, with a specific emphasis on addressing the needs of marginalised communities to guarantee their requirements are met.
The ‘Investigating the Role of Functional Foods and Beverages to Enhance Health and Recovery Hub’ at the University of Reading harnesses knowledge in the areas of the gut microbiome, mental health, sports science, and metabolism. The objective is to comprehend how functional foods can be effectively used to enhance human health by targeting gut microorganisms.
The University of Southampton's Hub, titled ‘Understanding How Food and Beverages Contribute to Enhanced Nutrition Across the Life-Course’, delves into the utilisation of food to deliver improved nutrition throughout all stages of life, with a particular focus on the elderly population.
The ‘STAR Start Healthy – Stay Healthy’ hub at the University of Surrey facilitates and backs new collaborations between academia and industry. Through evidence-based approaches, this hub develops innovative, cost-effective, and ecologically sustainable plant-based dietary solutions that promote and enhance crucial physiological processes, leading to improved mental and cognitive well-being.
Nottingham stated: “OIRC represents an investment of almost £15 million, created to help address critical shared barriers to innovation across the food and drink sector.
“The six innovation hubs bring together world-class leaders from academia, industry and wider stakeholders to address these barriers.”
Unhealthy diets contribute significantly to the global disease burden, with implications ranging from obesity to undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.
Statistics reveal that 39% of adults are underweight or obese, 31% suffer from hypertension, and 69% of women of reproductive age grapple with micronutrient deficits.
Additionally, undernutrition remains a persistent threat, causing nearly half of deaths among children under five and impeding socio-economic development.
According to authors of an editorial published in The British Nutrition Foundation’s journal 'Nutrition Bulletin', knowledge emerging from nutrition science plays a central role in informing public health programmes, policies, and clinical management of health service delivery but stronger cross-sector and cross-disciplinary partnerships are crucial to ensure the research base is better placed to tackle the major global nutrition research challenges.
They state: “It is critical to frame future research priorities against the backdrop of rising food insecurity, the cost-of-living crisis, and the urgent need to change the way our food is produced to mitigate the worst environmental consequences.
"Addressing these issues requires a better understanding of the multi-level, interrelated biological, individual, social and environmental determinants of food choice and the corresponding translational solutions.”