Nutrigenomics is defined as how food and ingested nutrients influence the genome. Although still in early stages, there has been significant interest in the concept of using an individual’s genetic information to provide personalized nutrition that can help optimize health and reduce the risk of diseases to which they are genetically predisposed.
According to a recent survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), 78 percent of Americans are favorable towards this concept, compared to 77 percent in 2007 and 70 percent in 2005.
“Since 2005, significantly more Americans are open to the concept of using genetic information to provide personalized nutrition recommendations. This survey shows that Americans possess greater knowledge of this concept, and they are increasingly becoming more interested in this topic,” found IFIC in its 2009 Food and Health Survey.
“As science continues to emerge in this area, it will be important to monitor Americans’ attitudes and favorability toward this field of science”
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According to the online survey of 1,000 American adults, conducted in May by Cogent Research on behalf of IFIC, over three quarters of Americans are interested in learning more about nutrigenomics.
Around one third of respondents (32 percent) said they were ‘very interested’ in learning more, while 47 percent are ‘somewhat interested’ and 17 percent said they were not interested.
In general, consumers who believe they are in ‘excellent’ health (23 percent) are most likely to report knowing ‘a lot’ about nutrigenomics, compared to 7 percent of those reporting ‘good’ or ‘very good’ health and 3 percent in ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ health. In addition, supplement users are more likely to report knowing ‘a lot’ about the field than non-users (6 percent vs. 3 percent).
Similarly, those who have a ‘very favorable’ opinion towards personalized nutrition mainly consider themselves to be in ‘excellent’ health (42 percent).
Those most likely to be ‘very interested’ in learning more about nutrigenomics are consumers who believe food and nutrition play a ‘great’ role in maintaining or improving overall health (35 percent), as well as consumers who believe that they have a ‘great’ amount of control over their health (35 percent), those who report their health status to be ‘excellent’ (49 percent) and dietary supplement users (37 percent).
Another decade in the pipeline
Personalized food tailored for people’s genotypes is still thought to be 10 to 15 years away from the market, according to some international experts.
Attendees at a Nutrigenomics conference held in Paris, France, last year heard that work is progressing at laboratories around the world but “there are still a lot of unknowns”, according to the European Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGO).
Nevertheless, a number of major food ingredient and finished product firms are making significant investments in research in this field.
"We see it as the future. Adding value through functionality is where the margin is," Dr Martin Kussmann, group leader of functional genomics at the Nestlé Research Center told NutraIngredients.com last year.
For Dr Kussmann and Nestlé, the key to prevention is detecting early deviations from the natural trajectory of healthy ageing. "Nutrition has become a molecular science," he said.
"We don't believe in 'give us your gene card and we'll print out your menu'," said Dr Kussmann. Nutrigenomics is also not just about disease risk, he said, and could easily be applied to sports nutrition, for example.
On the ingredient side, Danish probiotics, flavours, enzymes and phytochemical specialist Chr Hansen, set aside €30m ($42m) of its 2007/08 budget to develop research and development in the area with partners and other groups.
In June last year, Chr Hansen announced that it had teamed up with researchers from Denmark and Japan in an effort understand the genetic make-up of bacteria and see whether this knowledge can be used to improve probiotic food products.
The scientists are using bioinformatics, including complicated mathematical models and statistics, to analyze the bacteria.