Q&A: Volunteers needed for new study on healthier diets for individuals

20 February 2013

International experts are examining the relationship between food and gene expression, more commonly known as nutrigenomics, which is born out of the complete mapping of the human genome in 2000. Better understanding of food, genes and physical traits will help design healthier diets tailored to each individual person. Food4Me is an EU-funded project led by University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland, to discover the opportunities and challenges in the field of personalised nutrition.

Adrian Giordani, Manager of Communications for Food4Me interviewed John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition at Newcastle University, who leads the Proof of Principle (PoP) study which aims to discover whether it’s possible to deliver scientifically robust and personalised dietary advice via the web. John Mathers explains why personalised nutrition is important today and how the public can learn more about themselves if they participate:

Adrian Giordani (AG): Can you summarise what personalised nutrition is?

John Mathers (JM): We all know that we should eat healthily and we know generally the sort of things we should be doing, but we don’t know whether the particular advice that we’re getting is good for me or good for you. In fact, maybe you would need different advice from me. The idea of personalised nutrition is to get information which is relevant to the individual to help him or her choose a healthier diet.

AG: Why should this be important for a member of the public?

JM: Why we’d love people to join the study is that we’ll be able to test the big idea about personalised nutrition. In addition, the individual who joins the study will be able to learn quite a lot about themselves, about their personal diet and the sorts of things they might be able to do to make it better.

AG: How exactly are you involved with the Food4Me EU-funded project?

JM: I’m one of the principle investigators in the Food4Me study. We’re recruiting participants from seven different countries across Europe. We have people from Spain, Greece, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, the UK and Ireland. The task is that we get a cross-section of people who will help us to test the idea that personalised nutritional advice will help people choose a healthier diet.  

AG: Can you explain your current Proof of Principle (PoP) activity?

JM: At the moment we’re recruiting participants to the study and this is quite a big job because we need to recruit nearly 1300 people across these seven countries. At this stage our colleagues at each of the [European] centres are advertising for people who’d be interested in taking part in the study. That’s the really big job at the moment because we need to get all this done in 2013.

AG: If someone is interested in joining this study, how can they get involved?

JM: That’s really easy because we’re running this study through the web. The first thing is to go on your computer and visit the Food4Me website. On the top of the page is a little button for volunteers [volunteer section]. Then, if you want, you can click to sign up and join.

AG: Currently, are there any challenges you’re facing?

JM: At the moment we have recruitment going on in seven countries across Europe. Two of those have been recruiting for several months: that’s Ireland and the UK. And we know that one of the big challenges is to get enough people to join the study. What we’re doing at the moment is trying to spread the word about this study to invite people to the website and learn about personalised nutrition.

AG: Are there any other ways that could help encourage people to join Food4Me?  

JM: We have a Facebook page so if you’re on Facebook you can ‘like’ Food4Me and invite other people to come and visit.

If you prefer to listen the interview, click here.

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