This was the focus of a seminar at the University of Reading, UK, this week at which academics discussed the challenges the world faces in improving diets in both developed and developing countries.
Visiting speaker Professor Dyno Keatinge, from the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVRDC) in Taiwan and a former member of the University of Reading, said priorities in the production of food needed to change.
“Over the last 40 years we’ve focused on overcoming hunger, but our success in increasing the production of staple crops has come at a great cost – both to agricultural diversity and community health,” he said.
“In many developing countries over 70% of diets now consist of just one staple – and that’s not healthy. The key need is for balanced diets, and that applies to all of us.”
Research into the food chain and its impact on health is a major focus at the University of Reading, requiring the co-ordination of expertise across agriculture, animal and plant sciences, economics, food policy, bioscience, food science and nutrition and consumer choice.
Examples of current research at Reading include investigations into plants that can help protect against cancers, and the importance of nutrition and food across the age span – from looking at ways to encourage young children to eat fruit and vegetables to enhancing the taste of foods for the elderly to help prevent malnutrition.
Vegetable consumption in developing and developed countries is often well below recommended minimum standards, and, increasingly, people in the developing world have diets high in carbohydrates and fats.
Professor Richard Ellis, Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences, said that association with the international agricultural research centres, such as AVRDC, was important in finding workable solutions to the problems.
“The two institutions are working hard to carry out the underpinning research to understand both nutritional science and consumer behaviour sufficiently to improve people’s health and well-being,” he said.
“It is important to remember that obesity is not just limited to developed countries. Neither is malnutrition limited just to the developing world. Both issues are major problems for developed and developing countries alike.”
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Notes to editors
AVRDC is the only international agricultural research centre focused wholly on vegetable research and development its mission is to alleviate malnutrition and poverty in developing countries through the increased production and consumption of safe vegetables – www.avrdc.org
The University of Reading is one of the leading research-intensive universities in the UK and it has an established world reputation in the sciences. The University’s renowned research strengths have been recognised in the outcomes of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), with over 87% of the University’s research rated as of international standing.
Research in Life Sciences covers a broad spectrum, from agriculture and agricultural economics, through biological sciences, applied statistics, horticulture, chemistry, to food and nutritional sciences, pharmacy, psychology and clinical language sciences.
Because of the University’s long-standing and deeply-rooted involvement with the research and training aspirations of numerous other countries, it attracts many International students from across the world and has many alumni who retain their links with the University and help to maintain an international focus to our research.