Digital technologies can empower health and nutrition research but implementing them safely and effectively is a major challenge. Linking multiple datasets, such as administrative electronic health records plus biomarker data (from e.g. the UK Biobank) for health research is leading to novel insights into the biological mechanisms and social determinants of disease, and risk modelling. The quality of diet and nutrition data in such datasets, particularly from routinely collected administrative healthcare care is a key area for improvement that necessitates novel digital innovation in dietary assessment methods. Examples of technologies designed for this purpose that were showcased at the 8th Summit include the MyFood24 app for diet assessment, tracking and analysis (based in the UK), a Telegram Bot with food recognition capabilities (based in East and Central Asia), and GIBSONIFY for collecting quantitative dietary data (based in India). This sub-theme also included discussion on the burgeoning field of precision nutrition, using nutrigenetics, molecular determinants, and -omics to individualise nutrition advice. One example discussed was the work of ZOE, a company using large-scale biometrics and data science to investigate individualised responses to foods (PREDICT) to develop a machine learning based digital nutrition tool that individualises diet advice for users.
Crucially, to ensure their safe and effective implementation, such technologies should necessarily be subjected to practical validation in clinical and research settings using robust methods and with results reported in peer-reviewed publications. At the 8th Summit, key topics under this sub-theme included the practical, ethical, legal and regulatory issues involved in this process. Within this sector several actors are calling for these barriers to be minimised but the safety and quality assurances they were designed to ensure must be maintained. In Germany, for example, a mechanism (DiGA) has been developed to accelerate the regulatory approval process for digital health products into standard care.
Education remains a keystone in improving nutrition in clinical practice and research. Digital technologies have the potential to improve the quality and expand the reach of nutrition education. For example, NNEdPro members in Australia and Asia have been developing nutrition education frameworks for healthcare professionals, and online educational platforms to deliver teaching. In Portugal, PLATE is a digital, school-based food literacy program that utilises gamification to encourage healthy diets and prevent adolescent obesity.
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