Multi-disciplined science approach improves diet and health

15th August 2017

The Food Databanks National Capability, which is hosted by the Quadram Institute, has contributed an article to a special Issue of Nutrition Bulletin, published today by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to celebrate its 50th Anniversary.

‘Nutrition science past and future: Celebrating a multi-disciplined approach’ describes how the work of researchers in inter-connected nutrition science disciplines has delivered some of the most significant positive impacts on human health this century.

The cutting edge study of epigenetics to unravel how nutrition can regulate the genome and impact on health and wellbeing throughout life; the important insights from epidemiological research about diet-disease relationships; the discovery of new food components such as phytochemicals and their potential role in disease prevention, are just a few of the areas discussed in the Special Issue. It charts progress in knowledge about diet and health, through the work of eminent experts, and the role of BNF over the last 50 years in helping to disseminate evidenced based findings and making nutrition science accessible to all.

Paul Finglas, Mark Roe and Hannah Pinchen from Food Databanks, along with Siân Astley from EuroFIR AISBL authored a review, titled ‘The contribution of food composition resources to nutrition science methodology.’ It describes how, over the last century, the development of tools and methods for studying the nutrient and energy composition of foods has underpinned many advances in our understanding of links between diet and health.

The twelve articles published in the Special Issue, highlighting work in the areas of epidemiology, biochemistry, behavioural science, food science and technology, biomedical science, and epigenetics, show that nutrition is “one of the most exciting areas of science with so much potential for positive impact on human health”, according to Professor Christine Williams, Professor of Human Nutrition at University of Reading, Chair of the Board of Trustees at BNF, and author of the Special Issue’s Editorial. Professor Williams is also a member of the Quadram Institute Bioscience Board of Trustees.

The Special Issue illustrates how a multi-disciplined scientific approach, and collaboration between the scientific community and industry, can have a positive impact on health outcomes, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Professor Williams believes that reformulation of foods through processing and innovations in agriculture have played an important role in reducing potentially harmful and enhancing potentially beneficial dietary components in people’s diets. She says: “We need a clear code of practice for research collaborations between academia and industry, both to protect the independence of the researcher and to ensure the role which industry could play in improving the diets of populations is optimised.”

Professor Williams’ comments echo the findings of a recent report by the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research on the state of nutrition and health research, which highlight that funders and researchers need to work with all stakeholders, including those across all sectors of the food industry, as well as emphasising the global nature of the challenges in tackling nutritional health. In order to ensure that the track record of successes described in this Special Issue over the past 50 years can continue in the decades to come, it’s vital that funding across the scientific disciplines is maintained and multidisciplinary work continues to be centre stage.

‘Nutrition science past and future: Celebrating a multi-disciplined approach’ is available to download from

Reference: Finglas, P., Roe, M., Pinchen, H. and Astley, S. (2017), The contribution of food composition resources to nutrition science methodology. Nutrition Bulletin, 42: 198–206. doi:10.1111/nbu.12274

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