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Nutrition & Health Conference: Summarising two days of the latest science and research in the nutrition world
As expanding waistlines continue to be a growing problem in this country, dieticians, nutritionists, and other healthcare professionals gathered at the 10th annual Nutrition & Health Conference held at the Olympia Conference Centre in London this past Thursday and Friday, to present and discuss new scientific data in the field.
The theme of the first day was behavioural change and how methods that effectively spur behavioural change in relation to weight loss span multiple disciplines. There was an emphasis throughout the entire day on the psychological, social, and environmental factors that must be taken into account when developing weight loss interventions, and the fact that successful weight loss is not just about diet and exercise.
This multidisciplined approach fits in well with trying to attract a wider audience to this key event in the nutrition calendar, which Professor Judy Buttriss, Director General of The British Nutritional Foundation, said was one of the goals of this year’s programme. In her welcome address she highlighted the aim to attract more people from the education sector to the conference, as more and more children are struggling with weight issues.
In the keynote address Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, examined the health trends of the past ten years to show the progress and setbacks of healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom since the conference began. He emphasized the “three e’s” as a way of tackling the obesity epidemic. He said healthcare professionals need to engage people and make them realize they are vulnerable and need to do something to change their lifestyle, empower or give people the skills and knowledge to make beneficial changes, and finally create a safe environment where healthy choices are easier to make.
Overall Maryon-Davis was optimistic about the direction of health in the United Kingdom, predicting that within the next ten years the 2012 Olympics will help inspire the population to become more active, unified front of pack labelling will come into existence, and genetic profiling will be available to target and identify risks more efficiently.
Dr. Caroline Mulvihill then presented the NICE guidelines and recommendations for weight management and cardiovascular disease. She emphasized that some key aspects of the NICE guidelines are providing tailored advice to individuals and providing ongoing support, recognizing the social component of weight management.
Alette Addison, Head of Salt Reduction Strategy at the Food Standards Agency, explained the three step consumer awareness project to improve diet in the United Kingdom. She said when the public health campaign began in 2004 the main objective was to make the public aware of the fact that salt in large amounts is bad for health. Then the focus shifted to drawing attention to the fact salt is already present in many processed foods, so reducing salt intake is more complicated than not adding excess salt to foods at the dinner table. Finally the focus is now on identifying those foods that contain high amounts of salt and working to eliminate or cut back on their consumption.
The Change4Life presentation tied in perfectly with the theme of behaviour change. Alison Hardy, Behaviour Change Planning Lead for Change4Life, introduced the movement as a prevention effort that is aimed at changing the way children are raised and nourished. She identified challenges to changing behaviour, specifically saying that though around 30% of today’s children are overweight, only 5% of parents believe they have an overweight child. She then explained that the Change4Life advertising campaign is unique in that the figures in the campaign have no recognizable gender or race and they are not concerned with body shape. The campaign aims to apply to all people and promote healthy habits in order to reduce dangerous fat present inside the body and allow children and families to get the most out of life.
Rachel Carse, National Programme Director for the Department of Health, Health Trainers programme, again referenced the importance of social support in weight management interventions explaining that the Health Trainers programme is intended to fill in the gaps of traditional healthcare. She gave the example of a health trainer going grocery shopping with a patient to help the patient understand recommendations given by a dietician.
The Alpro Foundation then awarded the prize for a master’s theses to Meaghan Kitchen from the University of Leeds for her work on Project Tomato, which is a project aimed at getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables. The conclusion of the project was that parents have more of an impact on children’s fruit and vegetable intake than schools and it stressed the importance of parental involvement in changing children’s diets.
Professor Paul Gately, Driector of Carnegie Weight Management, was on par with the theme of the day when he highlighted social skills as a key factor in successful weight loss interventions in children. One of the key features of Carnegie Weight Loss Camps is that they recognize the need to build physical competency and accomplish this by teaching children skills such as shooting a basketball or serving a volleyball. These skills then allow children to be more successful in engaging with their peers.
Dr. Cliona Ni Mhurchu, a public health nutritionist, introduced the Supermarket Healthy Options Project (SHOP) that showed subjects in the study who received discounts on healthy foods decreased the amount of saturated fat they purchased in their food and increased the amount of fruits and vegetables they purchased. The issue of nutrition in hard economic times was revisited the following afternoon by Alison Shepherd, a nurse tutor at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, who discussed the increasing poverty levels in the United Kingdom and steps that can be taken to maintain good nutrition as the price of healthy foods continues to increase.
The influence of parents and friend groups on children’s eating behaviours was shown by Dr. Russell Jago, Senior Lecturer in Exercise, Nutrition, & Heath at the University of Bristol, who emphasized the role of parents as facilitators of activity for their children.
The first day of the conference wrapped up with Dr. Shalleen Barendse, a health psychologist, asking if dietary intervention always leads to improvements in quality of life. She concluded that improvement in health does not always equal improvement in quality of life. Barendse stressed the importance of the multidisciplinary approach to weight loss interventions and encouraged healthcare professionals to put the person first.
The theme of the second morning was trying to understand how to feed babies and infants and having appropriate measurement tools standards in place to know whether or not infants are thriving as they should.
Dr. Helen Bedford, Senior Lecturer in Children’s Health at the UCL Institute of Child Health, revealed the science behind the new, more parent friendly growth chart that was introduced to the United Kingdom in May of this year.
She explained that the old growth chart was formed compiling data from breast-fed and non breast-fed babies, as well as some babies whose mother smoked during pregnancy and some whose mothers did not. It has been scientifically proven that the growth of non breast-fed children later in life is slower than that of breast-fed children, so the new growth chart uses information only from healthy, breast-fed infants of non-smoking, non-deprived mothers in six different countries including Brazil, Ghana, India, Norway, Oman, and the United States. The growth of infants in all six countries was very similar.
She stressed that this is the first time parents have contributed to the design of a growth chart through focus and discussion groups. The new personal child health record has fewer pages and all of the information contained in it is aimed at parents and the focus groups reported it was more understandable.
The key features of the new growth charts include a separate section to plot premature births as well as a break between birth and the second week which accounts for the normal neonatal weight loss and regain that takes place during the first two weeks. The new chart also deemphasizes the 50th centile in an attempt to avoid the confusing message to parents that their child should be growing along that curve.
A highly controversial topic among new parents and healthcare professionals alike is how newborns should be fed. Mary Fewtrell, Reader in Childhood Nutrition at the UCL Institute of Child Health presented the scientific evidence behind the current recommendations for exclusive breast feeding as well as more current research and new developments in the field. .
Fewtrell gave her personal opinion saying mothers should be encouraged to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first four months and then introduce solid foods as they feel appropriate and according to the recommendations of their GP.
Mary Feeney, a clinical research dietician involved with The LEAP Study which looks at food allergy in infants, presented the current dietary guidelines for preventing food allergies and her research on the relationship between breastfeeding and the development of allergies in infancy.
She also discussed incorporating common allergens into the diets of infants as a potential way of reducing the risk of allergic reactions – affectively building up resistance through exposure.
There is evidence to suggest there may be a very narrow window in the first six months where potential allergens should be introduced to avoid the development of food allergies. The current World Health Organization recommendation though, is that women exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, even though there is not compelling evidence that breastfeeding beyond the first four months reduces allergic disease.
Feeney concluded by explaining the newly revised guidelines, which say pregnant women can choose to consume peanuts as part of a healthy balance diet- a change from the previous statement telling mother to avoid all nut consumption during pregnancy. Also parents should not delay weaning infants beyond six months and should talk to their GP before introducing different, potentially allergenic foods like wheat, fish, shellfish and eggs.
The conference also included a number of other presentations covering a range of topics, but the common themes were echoed throughout each presentation and discussion. The conference not only provided delegates with the latest scientific data in the field of health and nutrition, but it also spurred discussion and identified promising avenues for future research, health policy, and action.