While low birth weight, stunting and wasting of children under five and micronutrient deficiencies are still highly prevalent, the diet-related health burdens due to non-communicable chronic diseases are now surpassing those due to undernutrition. Undernutrition early in life may affect the metabolism that increases the susceptability in middle age to diseases associated with changes in diet and physical activity.
Research in this overarching theme in the Division of Human Nutrition and Health focusses on maternal and child malnutrition and the adverse effects for health and diseases over the course of the lifespan in low and middle income countries. On the one hand, undernutrition of (future) mothers and children and adverse outcomes for their growth, health and development is studied. On the other hand, the consequences of undernutrition early in life for the development of overweight, obesity and their consequences (diabetes, cancer and other non-communicable diseases) are investigated. The expertise, methodology and tools from the five chair groups within the Division of Human Nutrition and Health are used and combined to study the interrelationship between undernutrition and non-communicable diseases.
Examples of research topics that fall within the theme of International Nutrition are, amongst others:
Good nutritional status at the time of conception and during pregnancy is essential for health of the (future) mother and for ensuring healthy fetal growth and development. Evidence about timing and effect of improving critical nutrition factors on pubertal development, birth outcome and benefits or risks for adult health need to be built to focus international attention on the actions required to address adolescent malnutrition and fetal and postnatal growth.
Heterogeneity of response
This topic focuses on describing and quantifying the reasons why nutrition interventions achieve very different results within a population and to assess heterogeneity caused by intrinsic and extrinsic factors and their interactions in growth, immune, and health response. Using a systems biology approach accounting for environmental factors, the causes of inter-individual variability in growth pattern in response to nutrition interventions are identified.
Innovative tools to assess dietary intake
Improving dietary assessment methods continues to be a high priority in nutritional epidemiology. Direct methods of dietary assessment are critical for identifying (a) gene-diet interactions and (b) diet-disease associations in populations with diverse dietary intake and genetic ancestry. Particularly in the case of complex interventions, a strong call exists for simple, standardized dietbased indicators to assess, monitor, and evaluate dietary intake and household food security. New methods using mobile technologies (for example using digital photographing or voice recording) are promising and presently developed and evaluated in industrialised countries aAs well as in resource poor settings in low- and middle-income countries and in multi-ethnic populations. Dietary biomarkers combined with questionnaire-based instruments provide another way to arrive at better estimates of intake.