Professor Julie Lovegrove, the Society’s new President, is the first to have initially joined the Society as a student member.

As Professor Lovegrove begins her term of office (2019-2022), the Society asked her to reflect on her career as a nutritionist, and what the Society has meant to her both personally and professionally during the course of her career.

What first attracted you to nutrition science?

My interest in science began with a gift of a microscope from my Granddad, and fascination for an illustrated book on the human body. This sparked my young imagination and a desire to understand how the body works and responds to its environment. Food has always played an important role in my life, so pursuing a career in nutritional sciences provided me with a perfect combination of my interests in diet, health and disease.

How did your early career develop after your undergraduate degree?

After graduating from the University of Surrey with a BSc in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, I practiced on a part-time basis as a dietitian, running outpatient clinics at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and GP surgeries. These rewarding experiences were formative in fuelling one of my early ambitions to pursue a career in research, and decision to undertake a PhD.  My PhD thesis, which focused on infant milk allergy, was followed by five years of post-doctoral research on the role of dietary fats on postprandial lipid metabolism at the University of Surrey.

In 1996, I moved to the University of Reading to become a founding member of the Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition with Professor Christine Williams. The size and reputation of the unit as a centre of excellence in nutrition research has grown exponentially over the last 23 years. In 2010, I was awarded a Personal Chair to become Professor of Metabolic Nutrition, and in 2013 was privileged to be appointed as the new Director of the Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition.

Has there been a study or project that you have worked on that you would now consider to be a defining point in terms of your career?

I have had the privilege of being involved with a large number of cross-disciplinary and multi-centred research studies and trials in collaboration with world-leading scientists, from whom I have learnt a great deal. However, one study that could be described as a defining point in my career, was the first project funded by the Food Standards Agency, on which I was the Principal Investigator to investigate the impact of long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on insulin resistance and CVD risk factors in Indian-Asian populations. This was my first experience of the day-to-day management of research staff, volunteers, financial budgets, together with having ultimate responsibility for delivering the final results. The successful completion of the project and dissemination of our findings through the publication of papers in reputable journals felt like an enormous achievement and team effort, and was a large boost to my confidence.

What has been the most rewarding, or challenging, part of your policy and governmental work?

Public Health Nutrition is a passion of mine, and I’ve been honoured to serve on SACN since 2010.  SACN apply rigorous, systematic methods to assess the totality of the evidence for the impact of nutrition on human health and disease in areas relevant to the general public. I had the privilege to sit on the Carbohydrate and Saturated fat working groups, which were involved with the publication of the ‘Carbohydrates and Health’ (2015) and ‘Saturated fats and Health’ (2019) reports. The former report re-defined definitions of, and dietary recommendations for, free sugars and dietary fibres, which helped to inform and change public health policy in the UK. While it was extremely rewarding experience to work with these expert committees, a downside came in the form of accusations of bias and conflicts of interest from the media, which were ill-conceived and completely unfounded. I am extremely proud to be able to contribute to this important public health activity and have great respect for the expertise and integrity of the other members of SACN and associated committees.

When did you first become involved with the Society?

I have been a member of the Nutrition Society since I was a PhD student, 30 years ago, and have been an enthusiastic, active member ever since. The conferences are important events in my diary and I have attended every Summer Meeting except two, which coincided with maternity leave for my two children. I recall the first occasion I presented my PhD research at the Summer Meeting held in Sheffield. Although I was nervous, the audience where extremely supportive and I managed to answer their challenging, but interesting questions. 

How have you been involved with the Society in the intervening years?

Over my 30-year engagement with the Nutrition Society I have been involved with many different aspects of the Society’s work. I have had the pleasure of giving presentations and co-organising many of the Society’s conferences, including the 2011 Summer Meeting held at the University of Reading in our 70th Anniversary year, and the Winter meeting in 2012. The Society currently has five highly respected journals, including the British Journal of Nutrition for which I have served on the Editorial Board, and published my research, two papers from my research group were selected as ‘paper of the month’.  I was also Editor of one of the newer text books entitled; “Nutrition Research Methodology” in the excellent Nutrition Society Text Book series.

To gain further insight and involvement in the running of the Society, and the decisions and challenges it faced, I applied and was elected to Council in 2004. When the current President, Professor Philip Calder, asked if I would consider the role of President of the Society, I was flattered and surprised.  It is a true honor and privilege to be beginning my term as President of this prestigious, highly respected learned Society. I look forward to working with the Trustees, Advisory’s, CEO, Nutrition Society staff and members, and to promote the Society’s mission to advance scientific study of nutrition and its application to the maintenance of human and animal health over the next 3 years.

In next week’s blog, Professor Lovegrove reflects on her objectives as President of the Society.