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Approved Research

Diet and health in the UK: changes over time, pathophysiological mechanisms to NCDs and COVID-19, and projected health benefits of nutrition policies

Principal Investigator: Professor Feng He
Approved Research ID: 81169
Approval date: August 9th 2022

Lay summary

Chronic disease, e.g., heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and some cancers are the biggest causes of ill health and death worldwide, putting a huge burden on individuals, families, the healthcare system and the economy. Many of these diseases are linked to unhealthy diets; if the food and drinks consumed by people could be made healthier, the risk of developing those diseases would drop.

We aim to use the UK Biobank data to assess the link between the food and drink consumed in the UK and the most common diseases suffered by the UK population, and uncover the potential mechanisms causing these links. Our findings will provide more reliable evidence which can be used to improve the government's dietary guidelines and to design better interventions that will help prevent the development of disease in the UK. 

Since the beginning of 2020, the world has been severely impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. The risk of Covid-19 is increased in patients with some chronic diseases or health conditions (i.e., high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and heart disease). This has raised concerns in the health community about the potential link between these diseases and their risk factors (e.g. diet), and the risk of contracting and dying from covid-19. Therefore, we need to improve our understanding of the best ways to prevent covid-19 long term by providing more evidence on the link between the risk factors that can be changed, like diet, and covid-19 outcomes, as well as the underlying mechanisms.

To improve diet and the health of people in the UK, public health nutrition policies ranging from the food industry improving their products to make them more nutritious to consumer education campaigns have been proposed. However, their effectiveness depends on the local context. Therefore, by simulating the UK population based on the food and drinks consumed by the UK Biobank participants, we will predict the possible health benefits of these nutrition policies in the UK using mathematical models. We will also take practical issues into consideration such as the impact of different policies on individuals or the food industry. In this way, we will generate the strongest evidence needed to improve the UK's current nutrition policies, or to create brand new policies if needed.