In the second part of our blog series focussing on the Society’s new President Professor Julie Lovegrove, the Society talked to Professor Lovegrove about her career and involvement with the Society and her thoughts on why nutrition science matters.
Your research currently focuses on the nutritional influences of metabolic syndrome development and increased cardiovascular disease risk, including nutrient-gene interactions. What about this area do you find particularly interesting?
My interest in the role of human physiology in maintaining health and preventing disease, has given me a longstanding fascination for the impact of diet on the cardiovascular system. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and the overwhelming rise in the prevalence of diabetes, represent major causes of morbidity and premature mortality in the world. It’s clear that diet is a key factor in both the development and prevention of these diseases, and that its modification harbours immeasurable potential for improving public health. My research contribution on dietary fats has revealed differences in the cardio-metabolic effects of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids that have helped to increase knowledge and understanding of how dietary fat quality influences risk of CVD.
A major outstanding challenge in this field, is to explain why humans show such a large variation in their individual metabolic responses to dietary fats, and diet in general. Uncovering the metabolic and genetic origins of this variation in response to diet between individuals will create the possibility of tailoring dietary recommendations to the specific needs of an individual, and shift away from less effective general dietary guidelines. The targeting of dietary advice would increase efficacy and improve motivational behaviours to sustain dietary change, and revolutionise our current approaches.
How has being a member of the Nutrition Society impacted on your career?
The Nutrition Society has made a major contribution to several important aspects of my career, and I would highly recommend becoming a member to all nutritionists and those interested in the science of nutrition. The excellent conferences have, and continue to, offer opportunities to present my research findings, to keep up to date with the latest nutritional science, and to network with a host of supportive and friendly members in social interactions that often result in important collaborations and friendships. I have published extensively in the Nutrition Society journals, and the Society’s textbook series have proved invaluable as a teaching aid for my undergraduate and postgraduate students. The Society has also helped me develop key skills in the organisation, communication and presentation of my research and teaching, and been a constant presence in my professional career since I was a PhD student.
What do you think are the most important issues for nutritionists to tackle in the 21st century?
Obesity is of major public health importance and contributes to increased risk of numerous non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. Development of effective strategies to reduce this exponentially increasing metabolic burden and the related dietary mechanisms of action is a priority. A key issue in nutrition science is not only the development of a strong evidence-base for how diets can promote health, but effective methods of determining dietary intake, perhaps by use of validated biomarkers, and strategies to motivate and sustain change in dietary behaviour towards healthier dietary choices. Tailoring of nutrition advice to an individual or group’s specific requirements can be more effective at reducing disease risk and also has been associated with greater dietary change.
However, one of the biggest challenges in the 21st century is provision of adequate nutrition through a sustainable food system for the increasing global population. This will require collaboration of nutrition scientists with many other sectors. To tackle these important priorities in nutrition science and to improve overall population health, sufficient funding is essential and a public recognition of evidence-based nutritional advice.
In your opinion, how has the public perception of nutrition changed during the course of your career?
Interest in nutrition amongst the general public has increased in direct correspondence to the increased availability of nutrition-related information. However, there is considerable public confusion and a lack of trust in nutrition as a science. This could be due to a number of factors, including poorly reported evidence by social and traditional media, opposing and confused opinions on nutrition offered by unqualified individuals, and the speed of available information. It is essential that evidence-based nutrition is clearly presented to the public by suitably qualified individuals to ensure accessibility of the information for health promotion.
What are your hopes for the continuing development of nutritional science?
After the discovery of vitamins in the mid-20th century, it was believed that there was nothing more to discover in the field of nutritional science. Time has proven this prophecy to be naïve and incorrect. The importance of nutrition as an effective means of disease reduction is now recognised, with prevention being the key priority in public health. Evidence-based nutrition is essential to ensure optimum health of our ever-increasing population, with consideration of sustainability of our food supply and effective strategies for changing dietary behaviours. Recognition of the Profession of Nutrition, with a protected title, and continued elevation of nutrition as a major science and preventative strategy for health promotion are all paramount.