Personalised nutrition trend shows flaws in one-size-fits-all diets

Media release
15 December 2020

New research has revealed the effectiveness of 'personalised nutrition' advice—an emerging health trend slated to be worth billions of dollars.

Nutrition expert Dr Katherine Livingstone from Deakin University's world-leading Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) said the popularity of personalised nutrition had skyrocketed due to improved access to commercial DNA testing, health tracking apps, and wearable devices such as smartwatches.

"Personalised nutrition involves tailoring dietary advice to optimise health, based on the characteristic of the individual," Dr Livingstone said.

"We know that changing behaviours can be hard and that one-size-fits all advice isn't improving diets as much as we'd like, so designing dietary advice based on an individual’s characteristics may be more effective.

"Personalised advice can consider biological characteristics—such as an individual's cholesterol levels or waist circumference—as well as their diet and lifestyle behaviours. It can even factor in information about an individual's genetics and whether they're at greater risk of health concerns, such as heart disease, or be tailored to fit the individual's motivations.

"The concept of tailored dietary advice isn't new—dietitians have been giving personalised advice for centuries—but what makes the field of personalised nutrition research increasingly significant is the rise of big data and the use of wearables, apps, and toolkits that can give a detailed picture of individual health.

"Access to more data is creating exciting opportunities to provide personalised healthcare, of which nutrition is a big part. What's more, personalised nutrition is getting increasing scientific attention, including being one of the four pillars of the Australian Academy of Science's decadal plan for the science of nutrition."

Dr Livingstone and her colleagues have just completed a systematic review of personalised nutrition trials, which has been published in the international review journal Advances in Nutrition.

"Our review aimed to evaluate if personalised nutrition advice improved dietary intake more than generalised dietary advice, and to provide recommendations for the design of personalised nutrition interventions in the future," she said.

"From the evidence reviewed, we found personalised nutrition advice improved dietary intake compared to generalised advice.

"For personalised nutrition approaches to be most effective, they need to consider a wide range of individual characteristics that influence both food intake, the capacity to sustain dietary changes and the required behaviour change techniques.

"We also recommend giving greater consideration to overall dietary patterns. There has been a lot of focus on improving intakes of certain foods and nutrients, but we don’t eat foods in isolation—we eat combinations in meals and snacks.

"So when designing personalised nutrition approaches, we need to consider how dietary advice is contextualised within an individual’s overall dietary behaviours."

Dr Livingstone has been funded by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council to conduct a five-year investigation into how to design personalised nutrition approaches to improve dietary patterns of young adults.

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Media release Faculty of Health, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN)

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