Conference Overview: Targeted approaches to tackling current nutritional issues

Published online: 26 June 2018

Irish Conference Programme Booklet

The 2018 Irish Section Conference, hosted by the University of Ulster, Coleraine, provided an overview of current issues in relation to micronutrient status at various stages of the lifecycle.  Scientific Organisers, Dr Pamela Magee, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition, and Dr Mary McCann, Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Course Director of BSc Food and Nutrition programme, welcomed 180 delegates to the conference from across the UK and Ireland, and as far away as Japan and Hong Kong. With over 175 tweets using #nsirish18, and more likes and retweets than any other Society conference to date, the conference sparked much debate and information sharing.

Dr Sarah Bath, University of Surrey, UK, gave the opening lecture on the effects of iodine deficiency in pregnancy.  Dr Bath told the audience that iodine is essential for brain development, and that deficiency in pregnancy can impact cognitive development and IQ later in life. Whilst severe deficiency is now relatively rare due to iodised salt programmes, inadequate iodine levels are relatively common in countries without fortification, including the UK, as many women of childbearing age have low intakes.  

Dr Caroline Taylor, University of Bristol, UK, discussed the impact of picky eating in children highlighting the challenges of defining the picky eating phenotype. Whilst is can be considered a normal part of development, Dr Taylor said it can lead to poor dietary patterns with low meat and fruit and vegetable intakes, and is always a worry for parents and caregivers.  

Professor Helene McNulty, Ulster University, Northern Ireland, gave a presentation focused on folate and the metabolically related B vitamins: B12, B6 and B2. In particular Professor McNulty brought attention to the role of folic acid in preventing neural tube defect, saying that the evidence has been clear for 25 years, but the evidence has not translated into policy. Whilst status varies between countries due to fortification programmes, Professor McNulty highlighted the difficulty of achieving optimal dietary folate intakes through food folates as they are less bioavailable when cooked. 

Dr David Armstrong, Western Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland, gave the final talk of symposium one considering protein intake and bone health. Protein makes up 50% of bone tissue and it is likely that both animal and plant proteins are beneficial for bone strength, said Dr Armstrong.  He also highlighted the importance of targeting at risk groups with poor dietary patterns, particularly when combined with other risk factors for osteoporosis. Original Communications sessions followed symposium one with a variety of emerging research topics presented.

After Professor Barbara Livingstone gave a heartfelt tribute to the late Dr Julie Wallace, the Julie Wallace award lecture was given by this year’s winner, Dr Javier Gonzalez, University of Bath, UK, who gave an informative lecture on the role of nutrition in hepatic glucose metabolism.  After outlining the role of nutrition in regulating liver glycogen and the implications of liver carbohydrate on energy balance, he went on to explain the difference between liver and muscle glycogen utilisation during exercise.  Dr Gonzalez said that ingesting carbohydrate during exercise can prevent liver glycogen depletion, but not muscle glycogen, and in recovery from prolonged exercise, glucose-fructose mixtures accelerate liver glycogen recovery when compared to glucose alone.

After lunch and another excellent session of Original Communications, symposium two began with Professor Yvonne Lamers, University of British Columbia, Canada, who gave a talk on approaches to improve micronutrient status assessment at a population level.  After presenting evidence illustrating the challenge of assessing biomarker status in the B-vitamins at a population level, Professor Lamers emphasised the need for establishing global biomarkers and cut-offs which are assessable, sensitive and reliable. 

Professor Alison Gallagher, Ulster University, Northern Ireland, gave a timely overview of the health impacts of sugar sweetened beverages and using biomarker approaches to assess intakes of low calorie sweeteners (LCS). Professor Gallagher discussed the challenges of reliably measuring LCS intakes in the free-living population providing evidence that current approaches consider LCS as a homogenous group, despite variable metabolites. Urinary biomarkers may present methodology to overcome current limitations and provide an objective measure. 

Another topical subject, gut microbiota and health, was discussed next by Dr Francesca Fava, Fondazione Edmund Mach, Italy. Taking the audience through the three Ps of gut health, prebiotics, probiotics and polyphenols, she provided evidence that nutritional habits and lifestyle contribute to changes in the gut microbiome.  Dr Fava also said there is a differentiation between lean and obese gut microbiome. 

Society Irish Section Secretary Professor Lorraine Brenan, University College Dublin, Ireland, closed the symposium with a talk on the role of metabolomics in the identification of biomarkers relevant for health and nutrition. She showed recent evidence for the potential of using food biomarkers to assess dietary patterns saying that markers have not yet been evaluated for specificity as other dietary factors may alter biomarker prevalence in blood and urine. At the end of the day two, delegates attended the conference dinner for an evening of dining, networking, and of course, plenty of dancing. 

Day three began with Dr Lindsay Allen, Center Director, USDA/ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, USA, considering global strategies to improve micronutrient status. Dr Allen told delegates that when considering interventions to improve micronutrient status, you should focus on food first and improving dietary quality before considering supplementation or fortification. 

Honorary Secretary and Textbook Editor-in-Chief, Professor Susan Lanham-New, University of Surrey, UK, updated delegates on the importance of vitamin D, providing evidence for supplementation and the effectiveness of vitamin D3 on vitamin D status. Highlighting the importance of sun exposure for synthesising vitamin D, Professor Lanham-New said when your shadow is longer than your height, you do not make vitamin D. 

Dr Julia Finkelstein, Cornell University, USA, gave an overview of global iron deficiency highlighting it as a major public health issue.  She then gave insight into the effectiveness of iron biofortification to improve maternal health in vulnerable populations, suggesting it may be an easier solution for improving status compared to fortification.

Professor Martin Broadley, University of Nottingham, UK, gave the last talk of the conference introducing a new concept he has been developing, GeoNutrition. GeoNutrition takes a geographical approach to reducing micronutrient deficiency, particularly in areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Professor Broadley presented evidence from case studies in Malawi, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

The Society would like to thank the Irish Section for hosting the conference, and the Association for Nutrition, Tanita, Dairy Council Northern Ireland, Danone, Yakult, The National Dairy Council and the Food Safety Authority Ireland, for supporting the conference.  The Society would also like to thank delegates for their valuable contributions during the discussions raising key questions and opening debate.