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Nutrition and Science: How to Feed the World

Sep 15, 2015 05:15 PM EDT
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In order to meet the food demands of growing populations, nutritional science will have to make some changes to its curriculum. That is, according to a recent evaluation  from scientists at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech University.

"The grand challenges in 21st century nutrition research extend beyond individual health, encompassing all the massively interacting systems that help to sustain a global population," Josep Bassaganya-Riera, a professor and director at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute's Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory, said in a news release. "This article provides concrete recommendations for assessing these issues at the macro-level such as the application of informatics, data analytics, and modeling approaches."

The study proposes that changes be made between 2015 and 2020, looking specifically at sustainability, food safety, human gut health and the microbiome, and big data analysis. According to the World Resources Institute, in order to reach levels needed by 2050, crop calories will need to increase about 69 percent. Worldwide nutrition is ambitious, but improvements are possible.

In their report, the researchers noted that roughly 805 million people worldwide are malnourished. However, one out of every four calories from food also goes uneaten. On the other hand, approximately two billion people are overweight or obese, 42 million of which are children under the age of five. To just keep growing food, no matter how much healthier, is not the answer. Farming alone uses 70 percent of our global water sources and emits 24 percent of our global greenhouse gases, as the release noted.

"Nutrition science is evolving from reductionist approaches centered around the study of single molecules and pathways to in-depth, systems-wide analyses," Bassaganya-Riera said. "Embracing big data and computer modeling gives us a set of tools to identify nutritional benefits that are only observable in the interactions between multiple systems."

Their study was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition

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