Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

The Summer Meeting of the Nutrition Society, University of Reading.4–6 July 2011,

70th Anniversary Conference on ‘From plough through practice to policy’

The Boyd Orr Lecture

Back to the future: the changing frontiers of nutrition research and its relationship to policy

Peter J. Morgana1 c1

a1 Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen, Greenburn Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK

Abstract

Seventy years have elapsed since the Nutrition Society was founded and John Boyd Orr became its first Chairman. Over the intervening period, nutrition research has embraced and responded to a wide variety of challenges as the requirements of research have evolved and changed. This paper reflects on some of the major challenges that have influenced nutrition research over the past 70 years and considers where nutrition stands today along with the challenges for the future. In the past, these challenges have included food security and improvements in animal nutrition to enhance production through problems of overnutrition, such as CVD and obesity, as well as the recognition of the importance of early-life nutrition. The challenges for the future include how to translate the increasingly comprehensive and complex understanding of the relationship between nutrition and health, being gained as a result of the genomic revolution, into simple and accessible policy advice. It also includes how we learn more about the ways in which diet can help in the prevention of obesity as well as the ways in which we prevent the rise in complex diseases in emerging nations as they undergo nutritional transition. From this, it is clear that nutrition research has moved a long way from its initial focus on nutritional deficiencies to a subject, which is at the heart of public health consideration. This evolution of nutrition research means that today diet and health are high on the political agenda and that nutrition remains a priority area for research. It has been 70 years since 1941 when the Nutrition Society was established, under its first Chairman, John Boyd Orr. At that time there were many who believed that nutrition research had reached its peak and there was little left to discover. This view stemmed from the fact that most vitamins and minerals had been discovered and that the syndromes associated with nutritional deficiencies in these were largely known. Despite this gloomy prognosis, the intervening 70 years have witnessed a remarkable evolution in nutrition research, which has underpinned key Government policies, ranging from food security right through to public health. This review considers some major developments that have helped to shape nutrition research over the past 70 years and in so doing have changed its frontiers.

(Online publication November 09 2011)

Correspondence

c1 Corresponding author: Professor Peter J. Morgan, fax +44 1224 716698, email p.morgan@abdn.ac.uk