Solutions for the future of nutritional research

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Every day, we choose the food we eat and influence our health, whether consciously or not. This link between diet and health is a core concern of nutritional scientists, who met in Bern from 7 to 12 September 2019 for the 16th annual conference of the NuGO nutrigenomics association. A satellite workshop brought together diet and nutrition experts to discuss the current challenges facing nutritional research in Switzerland.

250 nutrition specialists meet in Bern

How can we benefit from advances in nutritional science to develop healthier diets’ To answer this question, 250 researchers and experts from Switzerland and around the world gathered in Bern from 7 to 12 September 2019 for the 16th annual conference of the NuGO nutrigenomics association. This international network aims to promote nutritional research using modern analytical tools from the life sciences. The programme of the event co-organised by Agroscope and NuGO included, among others, lectures on the impact of climate change on nutrition and health, molecular methods for the assessment of dietary intake, and the personalised dietary management of overweight and obesity.

"The idea of this conference was to build bridges between food science and nutritional research," explains Guy Vergères, Head of the Functional Nutritional Biology group at Agroscope and Chair of the Scientific Committee of NuGOweek 2019. Early career researchers, senior scientists and nutrition professionals exchanged knowledge and experience in relation to human food. Agroscope’s position within NuGO was strengthened with the appointment of Guy Vergères as Chair.

Challenges and solutions for nutritional research in Switzerland

Although nutritional research is expanding in Switzerland, some significant gaps remain. This was one of the conclusions of the satellite meeting on 12 September, organised as part of NuGOweek 2019 by the National Committee of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) with Agroscope’s support. Participants included nutrition researchers and experts from the fields of agricultural production, the food and nutrition industry, nutrition advice and public health.

Several speakers mentioned the need to refine the collecting of data on the dietary habits of the Swiss population, and to develop more efficient analytical tools. Structural deficiencies were also mentioned, such as the fragmentation of financial resources allocated to nutritional research and the gaps in communication of scientific results to the public. "The workshop highlighted many common interests among the different stakeholders. This inspired a genuine desire to work together to shape the future of nutritional research in Switzerland," summarises Guy Vergères. The discussion identified areas for improvement to be listed in a forthcoming report funded by the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO).

Agroscope’s research in the field of nutrition

Although cigarettes and alcohol can seriously affect our health, it is actually our diet that has the greatest impact: unhealthy eating habits increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and in some cases reduce life expectancy. To stay healthy, we are therefore advised to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. At Agroscope, nutrition is integrated into a systemic approach to agricultural research, ranging from the production of food to its absorption in the human body. By focusing its research activities on the needs of the Swiss population, Agroscope contributes to the production of high-quality food and to sustainable agriculture. Besides the analysis of food consumption by means of nutrigenomics (Vionnet et al., 2019), other research topics include the environmental effects of the production and consumption of various categories of foodstuffs (Poore & Nemecek, 2018).