The chair Nutrition, Public Health and Sustainability was formed in January 2015. Led by prof Pieter van ’t Veer the chair embodies a special mandate from the Rector and the chair holders of the Division of Human Nutrition and Health. The mission is to develop interdisciplinary research at the cutting-edge of human nutrition (biomedical, health-oriented), public health (food choice, policies) and environmental sustainability (food chains, -production).
The chair focuses on two research lines. Both address the Societal Challenges of (a) age-related diseases in western populations and the world-wide double burden of disease, and (b) increasing environmental pressure of agriculture because of population growth at the global scale:
1. Healthy and Sustainable Diets. The chair capitalizes on knowledge on dietary patterns at the Division as a common denominator for nutritional health (foods, nutrients, prevention), public health (food choice of consumers), and a sustainable environment (food production).
2. Research Infrastructures for the Food and Health domain. To address the societal challenges the research community must be enabled to conduct cutting-edge interdisciplinary research over the full width of the food-nutrition-health domain.
Healthy and Sustainable Diets
Nutrition research has defined the main characteristics of a healthy diet, in terms of nutrient requirements (macro- and micronutrients), and dietary guidelines. Advanced quantitative methods can be used to derive food patterns that are optimal with respect to health requirements and acceptable to consumers within specified limits. However, such diets are not necessarily optimal with respect to environmental indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water and fossil fuel, biodiversity, waste. The question arises what trade-offs must be made between health and sustainability of the diet, how food production and processing can contribute to solutions, and how this can be done in a way that is acceptable to consumers and other societal stakeholders.
Food and Health research in the EU is currently fragmented, both by disciplines and funding. It is situated between the agri-food production sector and the health sector, with consumers as key stakeholders in-between. The societal challenges require attention for the full causal DISH-network, ranging from research on Determinants of food intake and lifestyle, via Intake of foods and nutrients, to Status and function of the body, and eventually the risk of Health and disease. The chair contributes to advancing a pan-European Research Infrastructure in this domain, with national nodes that help to connect research between universities, research institutes and private parties. This will enable (1) the development of effective and widely accepted public health nutrition strategies and (2) innovative research towards food and nutrition systems that exploit the emerging opportunities with high resolution data on consumer behaviour, dietary patterns and biological effects.