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Vitafoods Europe 2023

Opportunities in personalised nutritional health improvement [Interview]

Article-Opportunities in personalised nutritional health improvement [Interview]

Vitafoods Europe 2023 Speaker - Susan Wopereis, TNO
Nutrition is becoming ever-more personal. This trend is helping consumers to tailor their diets to their specific needs based on their own health data, and food companies to better support customers to make healthy choices. At the Future of Nutrition Summit at Vitafoods Europe, Dr Suzan Wopereis will discuss what is driving this trend, and how cutting-edge research can be more effectively translated into useful market applications.

Dr Suzan Wopereis, principal scientist at the Dutch applied research organisation, TNO, focuses on quantifying the impact of lifestyle on health. One reason for this is that the field of personalised nutrition is close to her heart. “One of the reasons I got so involved in this issue is because while I was doing my PhD, my father was diagnosed with a vascular disease,” she explains. “His doctor advised him to go outside, to start exercising and to eat better.

What struck Wopereis was the impact of simple lifestyle changes. A daily walk and healthy eating enabled her dad to get much better. “I was amazed at how the body is just so resilient,” she says. “Simple changes made the difference, and this is what really got me interested in this topic of personalised nutrition.

The journey towards personalised nutrition

For Wopereis, a key issue is how to reach people like her dad, who might not read up on the latest research, but could benefit hugely from changing their behaviour. This is where data comes in.

Personalised nutrition starts with the collection of individual personal data,” she says. “Based on advanced interpretation of these data, a personalised service or product can be offered. I’m a scientist, so ideally, I would like to base such offerings on evidence-based knowledge and technology.”

Recent technological advances have begun to make this possible. Consumers are increasingly collecting data about themselves – via wearables and other digital tools – and increasingly such platforms can provide accurate and detailed feedback across a range of parameters.

This technological revolution comes at a time when consumers are increasingly aware that diet plays a critical role in overall wellbeing and health. This was reinforced during the Covid-19 pandemic, when people who were obese or in poor health were at higher risk of developing severe forms of the disease.

A final trend feeding into this personalised nutrition arena is scientific agreement that not every diet fits every person,” says Suzan. “One diet might be better than another for you personally. There is a growing consensus that environment and lifestyle habits, including diet, make us vulnerable to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Debating the Future of Nutrition

A key question therefore is how to bring this innovation, scientific understanding, and consumer awareness into applications and products. In her presentation at the Future of Nutrition Summit, Wopereis aims to show how the food and nutrition sector can tap into these trends, and be part of the personalised nutrition future.

Building ecosystems of multiple companies in the food chain working together on personalised nutrition is a prerequisite,” she says. “TNO already established such consortia, through for example, public private partnerships. These have helped us to go from science to market applications. As applied research organisation, I think we can show companies how to make this step, and support them making it.

At the Summit, Wopereis is looking forward to having discussions with multiple stakeholders, to building up new networks, and accelerating innovations in the personalised nutrition arena. “This is a complex field, with multiple disciplines coming together,” she says. “To be successful will take a lot of effort.” For those at the forefront of the personalised nutrition revolution however, the rewards could be significant.

Dr Suzan Wopereis will be speaking at the Future of Nutrition Summit, which will be held at Vitafoods Europe 2023 from 9 to 11 May in Geneva.