100 years of science into practice
The Institute was founded in 1913 and between the two world wars the research staff led many landmark studies of diet and health, both in humans and in animals (see history). But by the middle of the last century there were those who believed nutrition was a mature subject and there was little left to find out. Look at nutrition today and you see an entirely different picture. Nutrition is central to many global challenges. These include – obesity, food security, malnutrition, and ageing. Each of these are major policy issues for Government both nationally and internationally.
- Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland: A Route Map Towards a Healthy Weight
- Foresight report on Obesity: Tackling Obesities: Future Choices (2007)
- Recipe for Success: Scotland’s National Food and Drink Policy (2009)
- Global Food Security Strategic Plan 2011-2016 www.foodsecurity.ac.uk
We are not all equal. How we respond to food varies from individual to individual. This means that we need to challenge previous assumptions about what constitutes a healthy diet, and stratify advice accordingly.
Over the life course our nutritional needs change, and how we respond to different nutrients is also stage dependent. As result we have discovered that our lifelong health is not only influenced by our early life nutrition, but in some cases by transgenerational effects of nutrition.
The nutritional value of our food starts with the primary produce from agriculture. The journey from farm to fork has considerable influence on the nutritional composition and healthiness of our foods. As we address the food security challenge and reformulate foods to tackle the obesity problem, this relationship needs to be re-examined.
The bacteria which inhabit our guts are not passive passengers, but important players in the metabolism and release of functional food components which affect our nutritional status and health, as well as key regulators of our immune status. Since our diet influences bacterial composition, we require a better understanding of how food influences the host-microbe interaction.
Obesity and Metabolic Health
Obesity has a strong genetic determinant, and as a result we are differentially equipped to deal with the modern food environment. Dealing with this problem requires that we overcome the genetic weakness inherent in susceptible people. This requires that we understand and exploit the satiating properties of certain food components better and learn how to influence hardwired behaviours.
At the same time the days of simple nutritional disorders are behind us, yet recent research and more modern techniques, developed as result of the genomic revolution, has provided us with unanticipated insights into how nutrition can influence lifelong health.
From these challenges and insights the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health has developed a strategy, which engages some of the contemporary problems in nutrition and which should contribute not only to new scientific knowledge, but also new understanding to underpin Government policies and innovation for industry leading to increased economic growth.
As part of the University of Aberdeen since 2008, the Institute has a strong platform upon which to tackle these problems, because of the broader base of expertise and skills from which the Institute can now draw.
The Institute’s research is organized into three main themes - Lifelong Health, Gut Health and Obesity and Metabolic Health. Some of the problems being tackled within these themes are outlined below.
To address some of these issues requires a re-focus of some areas of the Institute’s activity. In particular, we are increasing emphasis on human studies and introducing psychological and health economic expertise into the Institute to help develop work on food choice and barriers to behavioural change.
The delivery of the Rowett Institute’s new strategy will be facilitated by a new Institute building to be opened in 2014 on the University’s Foresterhill campus, adjacent to the Medical School. This facility will not only have a state of the art human nutrition facility, but also will be close to the main health economic and health psychology expertise at the University.
The research within these themes resonate with some of the main priorities of national and international research funders, in particular those of the UK Government, the Research Councils and EU Framework programmes, and of course the Scottish Government, Research and Science Directorate (RSD), which provides the Institute with its Core funding. As a result, delivery of the Institute’s new strategy will be built around delivery of the research funded by the RSD Programme grant (2011-2016) in combination with increasing funding from other Government funding agencies.
This will be further complemented through funding obtained through engagement with industry. The establishment of the Scottish Food and Health Innovation Service, funded by Scottish Enterprise, located at the Rowett, as well as the Scottish Food and Health Innovation Network, funded by SFC and hosted by the University of Aberdeen, will be key to catalysing these interactions.
For some research this will involve in engagement with Government to provide advice relevant to key policies.
Ultimately the key indicator of success of the Rowett’s strategy will be the timely publication of scientific papers in appropriate peer-reviewed journals of the highest international standing, which will underpin any knowledge exchange through either the policy or interaction with industry.