The new National Science Challenge, High-Value Nutrition will provide $2.9 million in funding to a New Zealand-based research program focused on nutritional solutions for obesity and poor metabolic health.
The Challenge, one of eleven national science challenges, was recently launched with an investment of $10.9 million for studies in the fields of nutrition and food science. The new effort brings together New Zealand’s top food and nutrition researchers from across a range of knowledge fields and organizations with the aim of helping reduce diabetes and heart disease and developing strategies on how nutrition can improve gastrointestinal health and immune defenses.
The new obesity and metabolic health research program, dubbed “Peak Nutrition for Metabolic Health,” will be led by Professor Sally Poppitt from the University’s School of Biological Sciences, who is also the founding director of the University of Auckland’s Human Nutrition Unit and Fonterra Chair in Human Nutrition.
The research program will be mainly focused on Asian consumers and will look for nutritional solutions for the maintenance of a good metabolic health in older and middle aged adults. Worldwide, about 1.5 billion adults are obese or overweight, and these rates are quickly increasing in Asia, including China.
“Surprisingly perhaps, when matched against their European, Maori or Pacific counterparts, Asian consumers are at greater risk of poor metabolic health and that highlights the need for food and beverage products that provide better nutrition,” said High-Value Nutrition Science Director Professor David Cameron-Smith.
Researchers believe that the causes of why some people are more predisposed to diabetes and other conditions may lie in how people store body fat. Even small quantities of weight can cause fat to “spill over” from the adipose tissue into fundamental body organs such as the liver, pancreas and muscle.
Surprisingly, individuals with morbid obesity are thought to be not at the greatest risk. Even individuals who appear slim can develop diabetes while those with morbid obesity may be resistant, a phenomena known as TOFI: Thin on the outside, fat on the inside.
Professor Poppitt’s national collaborative research team will be conducting clinical investigations to explore who is at risk of diabetes, what are the disease’s early markers as well as how nutritional solutions can be developed by New Zealand food and beverage exporters.
“Ultimately we are looking at the Metabolic Health programme to help New Zealand companies develop validated health claims for food and beverages that satisfy both national and international regulators and which appeal to the tastes of the Asian market,” Professor Cameron-Smith concluded.