The CoDiet project plans to combat diet-related diseases through innovative diet-monitoring technologies and personalised nutrition.
Imperial researchers are taking part in a new Horizon Europe research project to investigate the relationship between diet and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by trialling innovative monitoring technologies, such as wearable smart-cameras, and developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools to deliver personalised dietary advice.
“One of the major gaps in our knowledge is accurate understanding of what people eat in their day to day lives. The tools we currently have are inaccurate which makes it very difficult to understand the relationship between diet and disease,” said Professor Gary Frost, Head of Nutrition Research at Imperial College London, who developed the tools and nutritional framework underpinning the project.
“CoDiet puts this problem at the centre of the project and brings together a number of new technologies to address this shortcoming. By doing this we believe we will be able to design new individual-based policies to prevent common lifestyle-related diseases.”
Researchers at Imperial laid the foundations for CoDiet, with Professor Frost, Professor Robert Shorten from the Dyson School of Engineering, and Dr Benny Lo from the Department of Surgery & Cancer bringing combined expertise in nutrition, design and engineering to develop the microcamera technology as well as nutritional analysis frameworks.
As part of the international project, institutions in 10 countries will collaborate to investigate aspects of diet-induced disease risk. The Imperial team will be involved in many aspects of the CoDiet project, from trialling new diet-monitoring technology, to developing a new policy simulation tool, to enhancing impact through communication and engagement, with support from UK Research and Innovation.
Understanding the connection between diet and disease
Despite an enormous amount of research on the connections between diet and NCDs, little is known about the actual steps that link what we eat to the development of these diseases.
Understanding what information is already out there is vital to developing new insights.
Researchers led by Imperial’s Dr Joram Posma in Imperial’s Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction will use a kind of artificial intelligence (AI) called natural language processing (NLP), the same kind used in Chatbots, to search for and analyse this information.
They aim to create the most comprehensive overview of the relationships between diet, bodily processes, and NCDs ever produced. The use of AI will allow them to achieve this in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional methods.
Trialling new diet-monitoring technology
A major issue in understanding how diet can lead to the development of diseases is accurately knowing what people actually eat in their day to day lives.
Currently, scientists get this information from people reporting what they eat themselves, such as through food journals. However, it’s known that this isn’t very accurate: people forget to write things down, or aren’t good at estimating portion sizes, or maybe they leave out a chocolate bar or glass of wine because they want to come across as doing better than they are.
CoDiet researchers will test new technology that can replace this step, including an intelligent, wearable camera that can be worn on the ear to passively record what the wearer eats and use AI to automatically recognise food types and estimate portion sizes.
This will be combined with techniques developed by Dr Isabel Garcia Perez and Dr Joram Posma that analyses thousands of molecules from, for example, urine or blood samples that the team will take from volunteers. This will mean that they can understand even more about how what we eat can cause changes in our body and how this can lead to the development of NCDs.
Ultimately, the CoDiet project plans on using this information to create and trial a tool that uses AI to deliver personalised dietary advice aimed at reducing a person’s risk of developing an NCD.
Creating a healthier society for all
Personalised dietary advice can help individuals to become healthier, but there are factors outside of people’s control that can make it harder to put advice into action, and not everyone has the time or motivation to seek out such advice.
Cheap fast-food, junk food advertising, education, regulation of food companies – all of these things affect the types of food that are available, accessible, and appealing to society. This is why influencing public policies is key to helping populations as a whole to live healthier lives.
Professor Franco Sassi, Director of the Centre for Health Economics & Policy Innovation at Imperial College Business School, will lead researchers to assess the current policies in place that are aimed at improving diets in six EU countries, and creating a tool that can simulate how diet and other risk factors affect the development of diseases at a population level.
This will allow the team to estimate the impact of potential policies for specific countries, building evidence around what policies would be best to help society to become healthier and lower the burden of NCDs.
Professor Sassi said: “Improving people's diet is one of the most challenging endeavours in public health. The principle is simple: we should make healthy food choices easier, more affordable and more appealing to consumers. But putting this into practice requires changing a myriad of powerful incentives that lock consumers into their unhealthy food habits. In the CoDiet initiative, Imperial will work with seven national public health agencies to identify the most effective combinations of incentives that governments can use to make people’s diet healthier."
Communicating research is a vital part of making it more impactful.
After successfully working on the application and setup of the project, Imperial’s Research Project Management team are leading the CoDiet project’s communications.
Working across the partners, the team will support them to reach their desired audiences, celebrate their work through the project website and social media, and create meaningful interactions through the development of bespoke engagement activities.
The project includes researchers from seventeen research and academic institutions across ten countries: AZTI (Spain), Czech Technical University (Czech Republic), Teagasc - Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Ireland), Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (Israel), CIC bioGUNE (Spain), University of Valencia (Spain), National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (Greece), Bruker Biospin (Germany), Microcaya (Spain), Sciensano (Belgium), University of Trento (Italy), Consorcio Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red (CIBER) (Spain), Istituto Superiore di Sanita (Italy), National Institute for Health Development (Estonia), Imperial College London (UK), and the University of Leicester (UK).
The CoDiet project is funded by the European Union under Horizon Europe grant number 101084642.
CoDiet research activities taking place at Imperial College London and the University of Leicester are supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee [grant number 101084642].
Find out more about CoDiet on their website: www.codiet.eu
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