The link between diet, physical activity and health is increasingly better understood and offers a platform for primary prevention strategies which have the potential to deliver significant public health gains. Health and social costs of adult (and increasingly child) overweight and obesity are a key priority for European governments. The food industry is cooperating with clearer labelling (e.g. traffic lights and guideline daily amounts) as well as investing in the development of health-promoting functional foods, e.g. incorporating pre/probiotics, omega 3 fatty acids. Fundamental to all effective public health interventions is that official dietary recommendations are underpinned by a robust science and evidence-base commanding the total confidence of policy-makers, health professionals and consumers.
Healthy Individuals and Healthy Populations
While basic biological requirements are universal, the emerging degree of inter-individual variation (nutrigenetics) fundamentally challenges the foundations on which population guidelines have been based such that messages may be disadvantageous in the case of some individuals or even sub-populations.
While advances in metabolomics will help establish the healthy nutritional phenotype and identify nutrient-based requirements for individuals, it is not too early to look at how to approach the future of population dietary guidelines both in practical and ethical terms. Application of individualised nutrition from the earliest life stages is necessary to optimise effectiveness of prevention strategies.
Public dietary and other lifestyle guidance should be simple and have clear utility. In the post-genome era shortcomings in the one-size-fits-all approach raise the question of public trust and call for a new conceptual framework for population dietary guidelines.
Individualised health interventions, distinct from public health recommendations, may however come to throw doubt over the reliability of the health claim substantiation process established under the 2006 EU Nutrition and Claims Regulation.
1. WHO. (2006) European Charter on Counteracting Obesity. World Health Organization; http://www.euro.who.int/Document/E89567.pdf
2. Stover PJ. (2006) Influence of human genetic variation on nutritional requirements. Am J Clin Nutr 83(2):436S-442S.
3. Fenech M. (2007) Genome health nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics - diagnosis and nutritional treatment of genome damage on an individual basis. Food Chem Toxicol
4. McGinty SA. (2008) Nutrigenomics, harmonisation and health claims. http://www.foodsciencecentral.com/fsc/ixid15390
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