According to the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition’s (UNSCN) June 2020 report, Nutrition in a Digital World, “digital technologies are important tools that can help to transform food systems and assist in the design and delivery of food and nutrition measures.”  The report covers a wide array of digital technologies and their applications, including mobile phone technology to improve the nutrition of children and adults in low-income countries; artificial intelligence to develop healthy and sustainable food systems; and interactive eLearning to boost the nutrition knowledge and counselling skills of front-line nutrition workers in India.

The authors of this report, however, cautioned that the potential of digital technology “to accelerate food-system transformation for sustainable healthy diets has not yet been sufficiently investigated, let alone understood.”  They believe, “additional information gathering and sharing and further exploratory research are urgently needed to tap into this potential.”

ASN Journals have responded to this need for more research, publishing original research studies and reviews to help us better understand how the latest sophisticated digital technology may be harnessed to solve the world’s most pressing nutritional challenges.  Below is a sampling of articles recently published in ASN Journals demonstrating our commitment to pushing the boundaries of digital technology to improve human nutrition.

Pro-biomics: Omics Technologies to Unravel the Role of Probiotics in Health and Disease, Advances in Nutrition, February 2021

  • Evidence demonstrates the potential of probiotics to manage an array of acute and chronic diseases. Nevertheless, Despoina Eugenia Kiousi et al. point out that probiotics have been used to treat only a limited number of gastrointestinal disorders, due to unanswered questions about probiotic production, efficacy, and health benefits.  The authors note, “the dynamics of probiotic–probiotic interactions are insufficiently researched; consequently, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of multi-strain supplementation because it is unclear whether inhibitory or proliferative relations exist among strains.”  In response, the authors believe multi-omics approaches have the potential to “systematically characterize and predict host–microbe and microbe–microbe interactions and evaluate probiotic efficacy.”  Looking towards the future the authors believe, “routine use of multi-omics platforms, single-cell technologies, and the integration of systems biology in probiotic research will contribute to the careful design of tailor-made interventions that would take into consideration species-, host-, and disease-specific factors and hopefully bring probiotic supplementation from bench to bedside.”

Gut Microbiota–Informed Precision Nutrition in the Generally Healthy Individual: Are We There Yet? Current Developments in Nutrition, August 2021

  • With the use of high-throughput, cost-efficient omics analyses, we are learning more and more about the human gut microbiome.  In particular, significant progress has been made in identifying gut microbial features linked to a spectrum of human disease.  The question is, do we know enough about the microbiome to implement precision nutrition?  In other words, are we able to tailor nutritional recommendations based on our understanding of an individuals’ gut microbiota?  Bartek Nogal et al. believe we’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer.  According to the authors, our understanding of what constitutes a healthy microbiome is still rudimentary: “other than a few microbiome-disease relations, there is a dearth of confirmed causal inferences, particularly in generally healthy populations.”  With that in mind, the authors contend, “nutritional advice for generally healthy individuals based on personal microbiome composition analysis might not yet be appropriate unless accompanied by established blood and physiological biomarkers.”

A Machine Learning Approach to Predict the Added-Sugar Content of Packaged Foods, The Journal of Nutrition, September 2021

  • Dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars; however, most countries have not mandated the labeling of added-sugar content on packaged foods and beverages, making it difficult for consumers to avoid products high in added sugars.  In response, Tazman Davies et al. developed and tested a machine learning approach designed to predict the added-sugar content in packaged products using available nutrient, ingredient, and food category information.  To determine whether the machine learning approach could accurately assess added-sugar content, the authors tested it against a synthetic (i.e., computer-generated) dataset of 500 Australian packaged products with known added-sugar content.  The results of the experiment suggest that the machine learning approach “can automate added-sugar content prediction with a high degree of validity, reliability, and interpretability using information readily available on packaged products.”  Most importantly, “this algorithm enables researchers in countries with no mandatory added-sugar labeling to conduct studies relating to added sugar.”

Emergence of the Obesity Epidemic: 6-Decade Visualization with Humanoid Avatars, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2022

  • “New mathematical approaches and accessible 3D optical technology combined with increasingly available large and diverse data sets across the life span now make unique visualization of body size and shape possible on a previously unattainable scale,” according to Michael C. Wong et al.  Working with a sample of 570 healthy adults, the authors developed a series of humanoid avatars with characteristics of US male and female adults based on CDC survey data from 1960-62, 1976-80, 1999-2002, and 2015-18.  The series of avatars developed at approximately 20-year intervals for representative males and females reveal the changes in body size and shape consistent with the emergence of the obesity epidemic.  The authors note, “these visual portrayals are intended to be proof-of-concept and to show how this emerging technology can supplement our other means of communicating concerns related to excess adiposity.”

If you are conducting research at the intersection of digital technology and nutrition, please consider submitting your research findings to an ASN Journal.  There’s no better way to quickly and seamlessly bring your important research findings to the attention of the world than publishing in an ASN Journal.