Nutrition and disease

As well as being crucial in preventing many chronic illnesses, a good diet and healthy lifestyle play an important role in their treatment. Nutritional interventions and custom advice can offer significant health benefits to the growing group of chronically sick. Accurate scientific research and a practical translation to healthcare are crucial aspects herein. Wageningen University & Research has been involved in the establishment of food research and education in the Netherlands since the outset, developing a strong reputation in research and education related to nutrition, health and chronic disease over the past 50 years.

Vital research into nutrition and disease

Increasing number of (chronically) ill

No fewer than 5.3 million people in the Netherlands suffer from type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiac & pulmonary disease, bowel disease and/or other chronic ailments. Equivalent to one in three Dutch residents, the number is only expected to increase in the coming years. Data from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) suggests that some seven million people – approximately half of all adults in the Netherlands – will be suffering from one or more chronic illnesses by 2030. Excess weight is a clear risk factor for the aforementioned diseases and half of all Dutch residents over 18 are currently overweight.

People with cardiovascular diseases appear to be extra vulnerable to lifestyle-related issues such as breast and bowel cancer, while people who have (had) bowel cancer are more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In turn, diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and often occurs with specific types of cancer such as colorectal cancer. Increased glucose levels in the blood and underlying infections in these illnesses damage the vascular system and kidneys.

Nutritional interventions and custom advice are a must

Now for some good news: nutritional interventions and custom advice can offer significant benefits for this growing group of chronically ill people. Proper scientific research and a practical translation to health care are crucial aspects therein. From prebiotic and protein-enriched products to lifestyle interventions and personalised dietary advice, the knowledge we are obtaining now will give us sufficient leads in ten years to make society/the chronically ill a little healthier. This would give a growing group of people a better quality of life and reduce the social costs related to medication, medical treatment and hospital admissions.

Research into nutrition, health and chronic diseases

Wageningen University & Research has a department that is fully dedicated to the theme of nutrition, health and chronic diseases. In addition, it accommodates a wealth of experience in the setup of observational and intervention studies among healthy and ill people. Research among the latter group is significantly more complex than among the healthy due to the wide variation in treatments, medication and symptoms among patients.

Integrated approach

Another unique aspect of Wageningen University & Research is its integrated approach, with smart links established between specialisms – from molecular biology to social sciences, food technology and bioinformatics. With the various fields of expertise all located close together on the university campus, subjects can be studied from various perspectives. The resulting cross-pollination leads to new ideas and gives our research extra depth and a greater impact.


In Wageningen we study a wide range of issues related to nutrients, diets and processes in the human body. For example, what happens to the fatty acids we ingest via food? How are these converted in the body and where do they have an effect? Or how can nutrition help increase the tumour-inhibiting effect of chemotherapy and reduce side-effects such as neuropathy and exhaustion? And can food help combat the development of insulin-resistance in liver and muscular tissue in diabetes sufferers? We also look at food products and how they are experienced by patients. Does someone with IBS have more or less pain when they eat high-fibre oatmeal porridge for breakfast, for instance. The importance of extra protein for the elderly and people with heart failure, COPD and kidney disease has also been demonstrated in papers.

Results in practice

In addition to placing issues on the agenda, Wageningen University & Research also effects actual social change. Our research into proteins and exercise among the elderly has resulted in countless follow-up studies and national intervention projects. The Ambiance project, which showed that residents of a care home ate more when their food was presented in an attractive way, led to stricter criteria for nursing home care. The SLIMMER programme, a lifestyle intervention to tackle type 2 diabetes via healthy nutrition and more exercise, was included in the basic health insurance package in 2019. Moreover, WUR research contributed to the development of the field of nutrigenomics and the application of molecular techniques in food research. In the same way, we can also implement improvements in the care for the chronically ill.

Integrating nutrition and lifestyle

Together with the Nutrition and Healthcare Alliance and academic medical centres, we are working on integrating food and lifestyle in healthcare and healthcare education. This will help make future doctors, nursing staff and other healthcare professionals more aware of the significant impact that nutrition has on health.


Our experts work closely with other (technical) universities and research institutes. This includes academic and regional hospitals (including via the Nutrition & Healthcare Alliance), independent health care professionals, businesses, government institutions and patient organisations. We are also represented in bodies such as the Health Council of the Netherlands and The Netherlands Nutrition Centre Foundation – platforms in which scientific insights are translated into the practice of medical care, education and business. In addition, close relationships are maintained with international institutions such as the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Global Burden of Disease Platform. In addition, we are partners in various consortiums in the Netherlands and abroad, including Regiodeal Foodvalley, GECCO and SUSPANCE.

Regiodeal Foodvalley

Via Regiodeal Foodvalley partnership, our experts work with a wide range of parties, including Utrecht University, the University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMCU), the Provinces of Gelderland and Utrecht, Regio Foodvalley (eight municipalities), VNO-NCW Midden and the national government to develop innovations that stimulate consumers to make healthier and more sustainable food choices. In the Nutrition & Healthcare Alliance, we work with Gelderse Vallei Hospital and Rijnstate in a theme programme related to obesity as part of the National Prevention Agreement, in which we widely roll out expertise on nutrition and exercise in the healthcare sector. A healthy food supply in Dutch hospitals, science-based custom dietary advice for people with obesity or chronic diseases, and the integration of nutritional expertise in education for health care professionals are the main aspects here. Over recent years we have developed and organised a range of massive online courses (MOOCS) and refresher courses for doctors and dieticians.