Targeted nutrition: innovation to reduce dietary inequalities
Given the huge increase in interest around nutritional approaches tailored to individual characteristics and behaviours, targeted nutrition is concerned with supporting the reduction in both prevalence and relative risk of malnutrition, obesity, and non-communicable diseases to known dietary factors in target populations.
Overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions in Europe, affecting almost 60% of adults and nearly one in three children (1). This is the message from the recently published WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022 which draws on research showing overweight and obesity as the fourth most common risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in the region, and the leading risk factor for disability, as well as being linked to greater morbidity and mortality from COVID-19.
Worryingly the report also highlights results from early studies which indicate that the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased in children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic (1).
In order to tackle this growing challenge, we need to consider how to reduce dietary inequalities in Europe. Obesity, malnutrition and food security are highly interconnected, with contributing factors ranging from medical reasons to food accessibility and poverty. We desperately need to create a healthier and more equitable food system which helps to address these challenges and works for everyone.
Taking a targeted approach
But we need to do more. The WHO report highlights that fact that no single intervention alone can halt the rise of the growing obesity epidemic, and that reducing inequalities in malnutrition in Europe overall is something which requires intervention at a number of levels.
Increasing food security by reducing malnutrition, overweight and obesity in individuals cannot be achieved with a one-size-fits all approach. Policy interventions to address obesity which are focussed on the population level need to be supported by targeted strategies implemented across the life course (1).
We need to empower and enable consumers by helping them understand more about their own bodies and increasing the knowledge available to them about the best way to manage their health. However, our bodies are incredibly complex and diverse, and when designing nutritional strategies, we must also consider a range of other non-biological aspects such as culture, lifestyle and socio-economic factors. This requires a more targeted approach.
Over recent years, there has been a huge increase in interest around nutritional approaches which are tailored to individual characteristics and behaviours. One of our key focus areas at EIT Food is Targeted nutrition, which is concerned with supporting the reduction in both prevalence and relative risk of malnutrition, obesity, and non-communicable diseases to known dietary factors in target populations.
Accelerating innovation within the agrifood industry plays a central role in our work at EIT Food to build a future-fit food system that produces healthy and sustainable food for all.
Research and innovation have helped to increase the range of science, technologies, tools and services that provide consumers with individualised dietary recommendations, and products have advanced greatly over recent years.
Despite this, there is still a need to make these technologies more accessible and affordable to a broader community, as well as more user-friendly and engaging.
To that end, EIT Food, Foodvalley NL and Food Innovation Hub Europe are supporting a new Prize-based challenge initiative to reduce obesity and malnutrition in Europe. The Prize-based challenge is a call to action for create multi-partner, multi-stakeholder initiatives to find innovative solutions to reduce obesity and malnutrition. It is currently welcoming proposals that are focused on addressing:
- Route to market: How can we help to reduce obesity and malnutrition by making tools more affordable and accessible to a broader community?
- Behavioural change: How can we empower consumers to manage their health?
- Science and big data: How might we enable a more targeted approach to consumers' health?
We desperately need to reduce dietary inequalities in Europe. Innovation focussed on targeted nutrition provides us with the opportunity to have a real impact on the growing obesity epidemic, however we need to ensure that the range of solutions developed are available, affordable and accessible to all.
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