Nutrition and obesity
The MRC currently funds a broad range of high quality research relating to diet, nutrition and obesity. In 2016/17 we spent £42m on research relevant to this topic.
Our portfolio demonstrates strengths in nutrition, dietary and metabolic research relating to molecular and clinical aspects, in the pathways and causes of disease, and the mechanisms at different periods of the life course. It also includes research at population level, building on MRC’s longstanding cohort investments (PDF, 2.07MB), and epidemiologic approaches (including biological, social and psychological determinants) and observational and interventional research on behaviours leading to chronic diseases.
The highly multidisciplinary nature of nutrition research presents particular challenges spanning the interests of a number of funders. We set out below how we are working in partnership to unite relevant disciplines with the aim of addressing key areas in the field.
A Cross-Council vision for Food, Nutrition and Health research
The MRC, Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have published a Cross-Council vision for Food, Nutrition and Health research, which recognises that a clear Cross-Council strategy and closer joint working is needed to further support integrative research within food, nutrition and health.
The document has been developed by a joint expert steering group. It recognises that where research problems are influenced by a variety of interacting biological, medical and social factors, approaches which consider these interdependencies will provide a more effective basis for new health policies, therapies, products and interventions.
By encouraging a collective approach to address important multidisciplinary research questions the aim is to underpin reliable nutritional advice, provide better understanding of food choice and consumer behaviour, improve public health messaging and support innovation to develop healthier food products.
The vision outlines the added value of a joint strategic approach, running alongside Council-specific activities, and highlights emerging opportunities for integrative research across Council remits which can be taken forward in partnership with other funders and stakeholders.
As a first step in support of the joint approach, the MRC and BBSRC launched a joint Highlight Notice in Mechanistic Research in Nutrition encouraging the development of mechanistically based multidisciplinary applications addressing research areas highlighted in the joint strategy. Nine new research projects have been funded under the joint highlight notice. In addition, jointly funded mechanistic proposals have been supported through other initiatives such as the Joint Programming Initiative: A Healthy Diet for A Healthy Life (see below).
Following publication of a Review of Nutrition and Human Health Research, the MRC wishes to continue to encourage research that will increase mechanistic understanding of the role that foods and nutrients play in health and disease. Further information is on our Mechanistic research in nutrition web page.
We collaborate with existing European and international research efforts to promote the sharing of resources and expertise where a transnational approach will add value.
Joint Programme Initiative: A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life
MRC and BBSRC joined forces (with 11 other countries) to participate in a European Intestinal Microbiomics research call. The call has supported six high quality multidisciplinary transnational research projects using a mechanistic approach to investigate causal relationships between diet, intestinal microbiota and health. Joint MRC and BBSRC funding has supported two of the successful research consortia.
MRC was also a partner in the JPI HDHL transnational call for research proposals on Nutrition and Cognitive Function (NutriCog). The call has supported five ambitious, innovative and collaborative research projects addressing important questions relating to the interplay between nutrition and cognitive function. MRC funding has supported three of the successful research consortia.
Partnership with the Food Industry
In recognition of the need to strengthen our engagement with the food industry, the MRC has been an active partner in three initiatives - the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), Innovate UK's Nutrition for Life and Priming Food Partnerships. These initiatives have facilitated high quality innovative research into diet and health within UK universities and research institutes, aimed at providing high quality research that could underpin the development of products that deliver enhanced health benefits for consumers. DRINC and Nutrition for Life form part of a research pipeline which provides an opportunity for industry led projects to be developed based on outputs from earlier phase pre-competitive research.
Understanding and influencing behaviour, particularly in a marketing and retail context, will play a key role in encouraging individuals and target populations to move towards healthy food choices.
MRC Neuroscience of Obesity Workshop: Gut –brain communication
Obesity and its related diseases place a significant burden on healthcare systems, and tackling obesity is a government-wide priority. In 2010 the MRC produced a report and set of priorities for its investment in obesity research. Three specific areas were highlighted in the priorities:
- From metabolism to disease – the mechanistic links between obesity and disease
- Neuroscience of obesity
- Prevention and intervention
The area of “neuroscience of obesity” is relevant to both PSMB and the MRC’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Board (NMHB). Central to this area is the opportunity to utilise the strengths within the UK’s neuroscience research community to gain a better understanding of the neuroscience of obesity, which remains an important but relatively neglected area.
The Workshop was hosted by the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit (MDU) and held under the aegis of both PSMB and NMHB. The workshop drew together experts from across the spectrum of research with the aim of considering how the field had evolved since the MRC developed its obesity priorities in 2010 and identifying priority topics through which MRC could make an impact.
The Workshop Report can be found here (PDF, 1.15MB). In response to the key research opportunities highlighted in the report PSMB and NMHB wishes to encourage new cross-disciplinary research and programme grant proposals which could be jointly funded between PSMB and NMHB, where appropriate.
Successful applications will be supported through our normal range response-mode mechanisms – see How we fund research - and will be assessed in partnership with other research boards, as required.