Nutrition is a complex subject. The relationship between food, nutrition and health is highly affected by both biological, environmental, socio-economic, cultural, and behavioral factors. As nutritional requirements can vary with age, sex, weight, genotype, level of activity, physiological and disease status, nutrition is able to impact positively or negatively on an individual from preconception through to adulthood1.
The continuing growth in the global population, coupled with climate change and unequal access to adequate nutritious foods further adds the complexity1. As access to a sustainable healthy diet is a key requirement across the life course, and across the globe2, Nutrition plays a central point for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2 ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’ and is crucial for achieving many of the other targets: overall, the nutritional aspects of the SDGs aim to promote healthy and sustainable diets and ensure food security globally3.
Nutrition research has, to date, provided us with invaluable evidence to shape the national dietary guidelines we use today. It has shown that good nutrition offers one of the most cost-effective ways to decrease the burden of many diseases and holds the key to better understand the causes of the major non-communicable diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers2,4.
However, despite these significant advances, we must still consider its youth as a science. Given the first vitamin was isolated less than one century ago5 nutritional science is surprisingly young; and with 50 years of this research being focused on deficiency, understanding the role nutrition plays in complex non-communicable disease is even more recent. For nutrition science to remain relevant and evolve, it must continue to address the world’s biggest public health challenges in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and within the post COVID-19 era2.
Nutrition research holds great promise in finding solutions to reduce the risk of many of today’s diseases, and positively influencing global human health and economies. Yet, failure to conduct new research in an organised and systematic way could have a detrimental impact on its ability to achieve desired health outcomes and maintain public trust. To continue making advances, research will require transformative thinking and action. Stronger cross-sector and cross-disciplinary partnerships will be crucial to ensure the research base is best placed to tackle the major global nutrition research challenges. It is timely then, to take stock and consider how nutrition science must move forward.
Impact of nutrition science to human health: Past perspectives and future directions hosted by the Nutrition Society Irish Section
The Nutrition Society’s Irish Section 2022 Conference reflected on the contribution of nutrition science to human health from past perspectives to future direction. Acknowledging historical nutrition advances, international speakers will came together to address the current challenges and scope the outlook for nutrition science in the future.
Find out more about the conference in the overview.
1) Medical Research Council. (2017). Review of Nutrition and Human Health Research.
2) Mozaffarian et al. (2018). History of modern nutrition science—implications for current research, dietary guidelines, and food policy. British Medical Journal; 361: k2392
3) Grosso, G., Mateo, A., Rangelov, N., Buzeti, T., & Birt, C. (2020). Nutrition in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. European journal of public health, 30(Suppl_1), i19–i23.
4) The Global Burden of Disease Study. (2020). The Lancet, 396.10258.
5) Ohlhorst SD, Russell R, Bier D, et al.(2013) Nutrition research to affect food and a healthy life span. J Nutr.;143(8):1349-1354. doi:10.3945/jn.113.180638
6) Global Nutrition report. (2020). The 2020 global nutrition report in the context of covid-19.