The IFNH Lunchtime Seminar this week: “Overcoming genetic risks with healthy lifestyle choices “ and “Adding life to years: Solutions to improve appetite and protein intake in older adults” presented by Deputy Directors for the IFNH, Professor Vimal Karani and Dr Miriam Clegg.

“Overcoming genetic risks with healthy lifestyle choices” – presented by Professor Vimal Karani


Individuals differ from each other in their genetic makeup due to which individuals respond differently to various lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity. These genetic differences are the key enabler of the emerging nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics areas of research. Obesity is a heritable trait that arises from the interactions between multiple genes and lifestyle factors such as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. Dietary factors play an important role in the development of obesity because of the variation in the food that is being consumed in different parts of the world. Although several studies have examined the gene-nutrient interactions, the findings have been quite inconsistent and hence, unable to develop an optimum diet for each ancestral population. Nutrigenetics has highlighted the complexity of gene-diet interactions but it offers opportunities to re-evaluate criteria used to set dietary guidelines and the contribution of genetic variation to optimal nutrition for individuals from different ethnic groups. In line with this, a large-scale collaborative project called GeNuIne (Gene-Nutrient Interactions) Collaboration that aims to develop personalised nutrition strategies based on the evidence from nutrigenetics, nutrigenomics and dietary intervention studies using cohorts from various ethnic groups has been initiated. In this collaborative study, gene-nutrient interactions on obesity-related traits in diverse ethnic groups are being examined. If the interactions between genetic variations and nutritional requirements are better understood in various ethnic groups, dietary recommendations could be personalised according to genotype to ultimately promote health and reduce disease risk.

“Adding life to years: Solutions to improve appetite and protein intake in older adults” – presented by Dr Miriam Clegg


The UK national population trajectory forecasts that by 2050, one in four people will be aged 65 years+. Whilst UK life expectancy has increased, there is little evidence that gains in life expectancy are translating to increased years in good health when compared to previous generations, with treatments effectively allow people to live with their disease for longer. A nutritious diet is essential for healthy aging, reducing the risk of chronic diseases and rate of functional decline. Protein has been highlighted for its ability to reduce the risk of frailty, fractures and decreases in cognition. Sarcopenia, a progressive and natural loss of muscle mass and strength as people age results in increased risk of frailty and fractures, as well as reduced independence and quality of life. Several studies have reported that energy, macro- and micro-nutrient intakes are typically lower than recommended in older people. Contrary to common belief, nutritional needs only decrease marginally with age and are sometimes higher than the needs of younger individuals. The current UK population protein recommendation is 0.75g/kg body weight. However, the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) and the PROT-AGE Study Group have advised that a healthy older adult’s daily protein intake should be increased to 1-1.2g /kg body weight /day. However, intake data from older adults consistently suggests these thresholds are not being met. There are a range of challenges associated with older age that can complicate food intake. For example, taste, aroma and texture perception can change with age reducing the enjoyment of food. Many older adults also have swallowing difficulties and reduced saliva production can delay processing time in the mouth, leading to increased satiety. While increasing protein intake in older adults may be an effective intervention to offset muscle mass decline and improve quality of life, there is very little evidence on how to do this effectively in older adults. The current talk will outline some of the issues in relation to incorporating sufficient protein into the diets of older adults, and some of the preliminary work from the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences related to solutions in this area.