Given the phenomenal challenges we now face in ensuring equal access to sustainable, nutritious food, the theme ‘Food and Nutrition: pathways to a sustainable future’ was timely. The conference brought together international topic experts to share their knowledge, expertise, and various perspectives on building ethical and sustainable food systems, reducing nutritional inequalities, sustaining an ageing population, and navigating dietary trends.
With the Society’s flagship journal the British Journal of Nutrition celebrating its 75th Anniversary, delegates were invited to a special networking event, jointly hosted with the Nutrition Society Training Academy (NTSA). Previous Silver Medal award winners provided insight into developments in their own research areas and new frontiers in nutrition science. Jenny Paxman, Sheffield Hallam University and Professor Julie Lovegrove, President of The Nutrition Society, then opened the conference, welcoming 252 delegates who had travelled from as far away as Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
The Society’s Theme Leaders then introduced the Theme Highlights from the submitted Original Communications. Dr Athanasios Koutsos, University of Glasgow, discussed findings from the RISSCI-1 study, highlighting the evidence around increased intestinal absorption of cholesterol after dietary saturated had been replaced with unsaturated fats. Kiu Sum, University of Westminster then spoke of how we can better support doctors in the workplace before Madeleine Thomas, University of Leeds, gave delegates an overview of how Supermarket ‘Healthy Start’ vouchers can effectively increase fruit and vegetable purchases in low-income households. Tilly Potter, Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen, concluded the series by discussing the individual behaviour factors that are associated with compliance and response to a wholegrains and nuts intervention.
Dr Sarah Berry, King’s College London, was awarded this year’s Silver Medal, giving an excellent lecture on personalised nutrition for metabolic health. ‘What’ we eat, ‘how’ we eat and ‘who’ we eat all impact postprandial metabolic responses and contribute to large inter- and intra-individual variability. Dr Berry showed how the PREDICT study has been able to demonstrate that genetic contributions for glucose, insulin and lipid responses are less than 50%, 30% and 10% respectively. Machine learning has been able to predict ~77% of the variation in postprandial glucose responses.
The day concluded with a social and networking event ‘Greener, Fairer, Healthier’ showcasing a range of local produce and products from Sheffield.
Sheffield’s local running store ‘Accelerate’, hosted a morning trail run, allowing delegates to explore views over Sheffield and the hills beyond by foot. Quorn Foods provided a complimentary breakfast featuring their plant-based product range, before the Society’s CEO, Mark Hollingsworth welcome delegates back for day two.
Professor Sir Charles Godfray, University of Oxford delivered the first plenary lecture, describing the current challenges facing the global food system. The current crisis in Ukraine is already disrupting our food system, but the knock-on effects could be comparable to that witnessed during World War Two. Professor Godfray was optimistic however, in the future of food, but stressed the need for collective action on all fronts that consider diet, production, waste and government.
‘There is great opportunity in production, reformulation and procurement that can lead change in industry and facilitate healthier dietary choices’ said Professor Godfray.
Symposium One opened with Professor Peter Jackson, The University of Sheffield, discussing ways to build an ethical food system. By 2050, the world’s population will have reached 10 billion, yet the amount of agricultural land available will have decreased significantly because of urbanisation and climate change. Food is fundamental, not only to human health but also to the Sustainable Development Goals and with reference to H3 programme and its commitment to transforming food systems ‘from the ground up’. Professor Jackson stressed the need for a more collaborative approach that will require dietary change, more sustainable agricultural practices, food production innovation including biotech, and reducing food waste.
Professor Emma Boyland, University of Liverpool, followed by asking the question ‘Is it ethical to advertise unhealthy foods to children?’. Over 75% of sampled children had been exposed to food marketing that promoted less healthy foods within ten minutes of using a device. Given their extensive media use, lack of motivation to resist and the developmental stages of food preferences, brain development and emotional maturity, children are particularly vulnerable. Although limiting screen time may appear a pragmatic solution for concerned parents, there are ethical considerations inherent in the monitoring of data from minors.
Dr Owen Fraser, President of the AOAC Sub Saharan Africa Section, concluded the symposium with an insightful talk on the analytical methods being used to quantify sodium in foods for regulatory compliance. Dr Fraser highlighted the discrepancies in the different analytical methods that are routinely used for quantifying sodium, noting 60% of the results either did not meeting the basic method performance criteria or were inaccurate. Dr Fraser stressed the need for informed nutritional interventions and policies that are based on good quality data, which can only be obtained if proper analytical methods are used by competent laboratories.
The NSTA’s popular ‘Ideas for Careers' workshop was also delivered, providing an excellent networking opportunity for attendees to engage and ask questions of experts from various areas of nutrition. Questions ranged from ‘How do I get more clients as a freelance nutritionist?’ through to ‘How long does the Association for Nutrition take to approve an application? Attendees had the opportunity to build collaborative relationships with fellow nutrition professionals to take forward into the future.
Syposium Two and Three
An excellent series of original communications followed before Symposium Two and Symposium Three took place in parallel. Symposium Two focused on ways of eroding nutritional Inequalities and Symposium Three looked at how we can take lessons from exercise to better promote activity.
Dr Nicola Heslehurst, Newcastle University, introduced Symposium Two with a closer look at how dietary intervention across the reproductive cycle can improve maternal and infant outcomes. Dr Samantha Caton, University of Sheffield, then discussed whether biofortification can be used as a strategy to address health inequalities before Dr Christian Reynolds, City University London, concluded by discussing the role of food banks in food insecure populations.
Symposium Three looked at how we can use lessons learnt in exercise science to better enable activity. Dr Julia Zakrzewski-Fruer, University of Bedfordshire, discussed paediatric cardiometabolic risk reduction through manipulating breakfast and physical activity. Despite breakfast consumption and physical activity showing acute benefits for moderating glycaemia and insulin in adolescents, more research is needed to better understand any additive effects of these. Professor David Stensel, Loughborough University, followed with an insightful talk on the potential for physical activity to facilitate a sustainable future. Using recent examples, Professor Stenel proposed that a balance of nutrition and physical activity are essential for optimal health. Professor Stenel highlighted how just a one year programme of walking could increase brain hippocampus size and improve memory. However, the health-enhancing potential of physical activity is not being realised at the government level and thus the contribution of physical activity to a sustainable future is currently compromised. Professor John Saxton, University of Hull, ended the symposium with an insightful talk on exercise and diet for men with prostate cancer. With prevalence of prostate cancer in the UK expected to increase by 29% in 2035, Professor Saxton discussed the role of physical activity including structured exercise in reducing risk of prostate cancer, highlighting the potential added value in combining exercise with nutritional intervention.
Following engaging panel discussions on both symposium, The Rank Prize Lecture was delivered by Professor Amelia Lake, Teeside University, who spoke of the opportunities to improve population health and possibilities for a healthier food environment. Professor Lake highlighted the need to think of the food environment within the sustainability framework, highlighting the importance to work beyond the high street. This includes new models that involve social supermarkets and dark kitchens, understanding how they shape access and availability to healthier food in food insecure communities.
An evening drinks reception supported by IFIS concluded the day.
Quorn Breakfast symposium
Dr Hannah Theobald, Quorn Foods, UK gave the opening lecture on the history of fungal proteins, fungal fermentation and its associated innovative technologies before Dr Emma Derbyshire, Registered Nutritionist discussed the role of fungi and mycoprotein in addressing global food sustainability challenges. Dr Derbyshire highlighted how fungi have been categorised as a separate ‘Third Kingdom’ due to their distinct cellular organisation, noting their nutritional superiority containing all nine essential amino acids whilst being low in energy, saturated fat and good source of fibre. Professor Ben Wall, University of Exeter, touched on mycoprotein as a dietary protein source to support resistance training induced muscle adaptations. Focusing on the bioavailability and speed of digestion, Professor Wall showed how mycoprotein despite being slowly digested, it is a highly bioavailable dietary protein source and is comparable to milk protein in its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Professor Francis Stephens, University of Exeter concluded with an overview of the current evidence on the effects of mycoprotein on cardiometabolic health.
Plenary Lecture Two
Professor Kieran Tuohy, University of Leeds, gave the second plenary lecture, discussing ways of modulating the microbiome for improved health. Using evidence from recent human studies, Professor Tuohy gave an overview of the possible mechanisms of action that link diet and microbe interactions in the gut with host metabolic health and immune function. Fibre, polyphenols and diets enriched in these bioactive compounds have all been shown to influence both the gut microbiota and reduce host metabolic disease risk.
Symposium Four and Five
Symposia Four and Five were parallel sessions considering the strategies for sustaining an ageing population as well as our understating of mechanisms for health. Dr Elizabeth Williams, The University of Sheffield, UK gave delegates insight into sustainable protein for healthy ageing. Given the global population of people aged over 65 is expected to double by 2050, and that protein requirements are elevated in older adults, Dr Williams stressed the importance of incorporating a variety or protein sources as we face challenges in sustainably optimising protein intake for healthy ageing.
An excellent Postgraduate Symposium allowed researchers to share their work, including consideration for the associations between saturated fatty acid intake, LDL cholesterol and body composition as well as the future opportunities and health considerations for promoting the adoption of novel plant-based convenience foods.
The second original communications session followed before the Gala Dinner took place at Cutlers’ Hall.
The final day began with the winner of the British Journal of Nutrition Paper of the Year Award, Dr Sara Jimenez-Montilla, University of Granada, discussing her research on the association between restricted intra-uterine growth and inadequate postnatal nutrition in very-low-weight infants and their neurodevelopmental outcomes. Dr Jimenez-Montilla showed how restricted intra-uterine is associated with behavioural disorder, while postnatal energy restriction is significantly associated with motor disorder, infantile disorder, cerebral palsy and sensory disorder.
Dr Carrie Ruxton, Nutrition Communications, UK opened the final Symposia Six with an engaging discussion around the challenges and opportunities for promoting and disseminating consistent and responsible nutrition messages. Using practical examples of messages and campaigns, Dr Ruxton discussed the anatomy of a typical nutrition message ad highlighted the difference in messages targeting larger populations vs individuals. It was staggering to learn from the FSS consumer Tracker that only 43% surveyed individuals were aware of the Eatwell Guide and almost 50% of those who saw it didn’t know what it communicated. Dr Megan Blake, The University of Sheffield, followed with a thought-provoking talk on the social value of surplus food in community settings. Whilst we often think of surplus food being waste, it has many other values, which when enfolded into community activity, go beyond nutrients, calories and financial savings or charity. Surplus food can help diversify diets, empower people to eat and cook better food at home, connect communities, and re-establish local markets for healthier food. Dr Blake highlighted the need to find ways to both support communities to develop and address food waste if we are to improve public health and achieve sustainable development goals simultaneously. The final lecture of the day was given by Professor Ciarán Forde, Wageningen University and Research, who discussed the promise for reformulation in enhancing the nutrient density of the food supply, while reducing the risk of over-consumption of many public-health sensitive nutrients.
Jenny Paxman, Sheffield Hallam University and Dr Elizabeth Williams, University of Sheffield, closed the conference, thanking the local organising team for putting together such an engaging event, and speakers for their invaluable contributions to the panel discussions throughout. Both highlighted that the theme could not have been more relevant despite being proposed three years ago.
The Society would also like to thank The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University for hosting the conference, as well as Quorn Foods, Accelerate, Randox, Yakult, Myfood and IFIS for supporting the conference. Thanks also to delegates for their valuable contributions during the discussions raising key questions and opening debate.
Invited speaker reviews and abstracts will be published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society in due course.
Winning Tweet: Sarah Docherty for her tweet: Nutrition Society Girls vs Spice Girls.
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The Society is excited to be bringing its annual Summer Conference to Liverpool in 2023 with the theme being ‘Nutrition at the key stages of the life cycle’.