FENS 2019 - conference summary

Published online: 23 October 2019

FENS 2019

The Nutrition Society hosted the 13th European Nutrition Conference (FENS2019) in Dublin on October 15-18, welcoming 1700 delegates from over 70 countries and as far away as New Zealand to the Convention Centre Dublin. The culmination of four years of planning, both the Society and FENS were delighted to see delegates wholeheartedly engaging with the speakers and topics in the programme over the course of the four days.

With nine streams running concurrently each day, the biggest challenge was often deciding what session to attend, with over 175 different sessions run over the course of the conference.

Plenary speaker sessions

The busy schedule began in earnest with the conference’s first plenary speaker Dr Joao Breda, The World Health Organization, speaking on the topic of malnutrition drivers across the life-course. In an impassioned lecture, Dr Breda noted that nutrition is vital for the success of the Sustainable Development Goals and stressed the need for more political progress and action in order to reduce rising rates of Non-Communicable Diseases. Dr Breda urged action on the WHO's four strategic pillars; creating healthier food and drink environments, working to make the healthy option the easy option, reinforcing healthcare systems to promote more healthy diets, and obtaining better data through increased surveillance and monitoring of nutrition and health markers. With nutrition interventions often cost-effective ones, Dr Breda recommended transparent and collaborative partnerships with science, advocacy and policy working together to promote healthier environments.

Professor Arne Astrup’s plenary lecture on day two provided delegates with food for thought, as he discussed the need for more personalised nutrition approaches. With a very large amount of individual variability typically observed during dietary interventions targeting weight loss, Professor Astrup, University of Copenhagen, explored whether stratifying individuals based on fasting blood glucose levels could predict individual response. Using data from the NUGENOB and DIOGENES studies, Professor Astrup made a case for stratifying persons with obesity into three different groups (normal glycaemic control, prediabetic, and those with type two diabetes). Those with type two diabetes appeared to respond well to lower carbohydrate and higher fat diets with improvements seen for a number of health markers. Conversely, those with normal glycaemic control responded better to higher carbohydrate and lower fat diets, while those with prediabetes responded well to high fibre diets. With a complicated mix of gut microbiota, insulin, gut hormones and leptin all contributing to individual weight control, Professor Astrup urged delegates to consider the use of foods and diet in treatment of clinical metabolic disorders.

Day three included two plenary speaker sessions. Professor Ellen Blaak, Maastricht University, The Netherlands, was the first plenary speaker of the day, discussing current metabolomic perspectives on malnutrition in obesity. Noting that persons with obesity may be at risk of malnutrition due to repeated dieting, the sequestration of vitamin D in adipose tissue, and potential metabolic maladaptations, Professor Blaak suggested that a move towards more personalised approaches to treatment may be required in order to optimise nutrition for metabolic health. With recent evidence suggesting that insulin resistant phenotypes differ between those with muscle insulin resistance and those with liver insulin resistance, Professor Blaak also demonstrated that inulin and resistant starch are digested differently by lean individuals and those with prediabetes. Response to dietary interventions may therefore depend on an individual's initial insulin resistance phenotype as well as diet composition.

Professor Lauren Lissner, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, delivered the second plenary of the day, discussing how the rapidly changing food environment has led to the large rise in obesity prevalence seen globally over the past 50 years. With social, physical and political factors all playing a part in obesogenic environments, the IDEFICS study demonstrated how social vulnerabilities beyond simply socioeconomic status are associated with overweight and obesity in children. Lack of social networks and parental migration status both play a role for example, with individual taste preferences also implicated and social influences on diets starting very early in life. Consumer self-regulation remains a contentious topic, with those with higher levels of agency and education more likely to respond to information based public health campaigns suggesting a need for other approaches. With further research required on socioeconomic inequalities and personalised nutrition, climate change has reversed the usual question of determining how the environment impacts on diet, by posing a new challenge of managing how diet impact the environment.

Professor Christian Wolfrum, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, delivered the final plenary session and the Rank Prize Fund Award Lecture on epigenetics and obesity. Noting that obesity is a heritable trait, Professor Wolfrum discussed both the genetic and epigenetic determinants that can lead to certain individuals having a propensity to gain more weight than others. Maternal and paternal diets during conception and pregnancy both appear to affect offspring, with animal studies showing that mothers fed a high fat diet have offspring that live in hyperdopaminergic state, proving more susceptible to very palatable foods and other hedonic behaviours for example. Nutrition during pregnancy should therefore be an important focus of any interventions. Professor Wolfrum also discussed recent research on the effect of brown adipose tissue, for many years thought to be irrelavant in humans. With evidence showing that brown adipose tisse is blunted in persons with obesity, it remains unclear what the direction of this relationship is, with new evidence suggesting that paternal cold exposure is mediated through sperm and can increase the metabolic rate of offspring. Climate and temperature, may therefore also impact on obesity.

Other resources

You can view the FENS Daily Insight newsletters - providing a daily round-up of the main events and awards - using the links below.

Day one, Tuesday 15 October

Day two, Wednesday 16 October

Day three, Thursday 17 October

Day four, Friday 18 October


Photos can be viewed and downloaded from the Society's cloud storage space.

Days one and two

Days three and four

Social events and other sessions.

Other media

A collection of tweets and photos sent using the conference hashtag, #FENS2019, has been archived and can be accessed here.

A short video of the conference is also available.

Many thanks to all delegates, presenters, speakers, volunteers and exhibitors who helped to make FENS2019 such a success.