1st March, 2012, Belfast
The Dairy Council for Northern Ireland held a conference for health and education professionals entitled “Nutrition & Health: What’s New?” at the Odyssey, Belfast.
The conference was chaired by Prof. Sean Strain of the University of Ulster. The morning sessions commenced with a presentation from Prof. Andy Salter of the University of Nottingham on dietary fatty acids and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Prof. Salter highlighted that the simple message that reducing saturated fat intake will reduce risk of CVD, which has formed the cornerstone of public health policy for over forty years, is not supported by recent evidence. He explained that different saturated fatty acids have differing effects on blood cholesterol levels, with in fact some having a neutral effect. In addition, consideration of the replacement nutrient for saturated fat in the diet is warranted. He explained that no benefit to coronary heart disease (CHD) risk is seen when carbohydrate replaces saturated fat, while substitution with refined carbohydrate may actually increase risk. Prof. Salter stressed that a more holistic view of saturated fat should be taken, as while animal products do contribute to saturated fat intake, there is no evidence to suggest that high milk intake is associated with increased risk of CVD, while, in fact milk consumption may be protective.
Following on from this, Dr Michelle McKinley of Queen’s University Belfast, presented on nutrition and reproductive disorders. She gave an overview of the role of diet and lifestyle in the management of premenstrual syndrome. She highlighted recent evidence to show that calcium may be effective at relieving symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. In addition emerging evidence suggests that dietary vitamin B1 and B2 may decrease risk. She suggested that dairy, being a source of calcium and vitamin B2, may have a role to play in relieving symptoms.
Sarah Bath of University of Surrey presented on the re-emergence of iodine deficiency in the UK. She explained that iodine deficiency was eradicated in the 1960s in the UK, largely due to the iodine concentration of milk that resulted from farming practices and increased milk consumption. However recent research from Surrey has revealed the return of mild iodine deficiency in UK school girls and pregnant women. Importantly, Sarah highlighted data to show that the children of iodine deficient mothers were more likely to have lower IQ and reading scores. Sarah stressed that worryingly the UK is now among the top ten countries worldwide with an iodine deficiency problem. She highlighted that iodised salt is not widely available in the UK, meaning the contribution that milk can make to status is paramount. Also important to note, she mentioned that the iodine concentration of organic milk is significantly lower than that of conventional milk.
The morning sessions came to a close with a presentation from Prof. Marie Murphy on ‘Start Active, Stay Active: new recommendations for physically activity in the UK.’ She explained that these are the first evidence-based recommendations from all of the four home countries, endorsed by four chief medical officers. She gave an overview of the recommendations that for the first time provide guidance on the early years (under fives), older adults and people with disabilities.
The afternoon sessions commenced with Dr Tom Hill of Newcastle University giving an update on nutrition, exercise and bone health outcomes. He highlighted that several dietary components have been linked to bone health including calcium, vitamin D, protein and conjugated linoleic acid. He explained that recent research demonstrates that combining nutrients such as calcium and protein with exercise results in greater bone mineral mass than either low nutrient intake and exercise or high nutrient intake alone. With reference to dairy, Dr Hill highlighted research to show that dairy benefits bone health over and above benefits seen from calcium alone; suggesting that dairy’s unique package of nutrients may benefit bone health. He stressed that research needs to focus on the effects of using foods containing a mixture of bone active compounds such as dairy, which provides calcium and protein in addition to a number of other nutrients which play a role in bone health, in combination with different exercise regimes on bone health.
The day drew to a close with Prof. Barbara Livingstone of University of Ulster, presenting on ‘energy intakes and childhood obesity: is the evidence all that it seems?’ The main messages of her presentation were that there are lots of factors that play a role in childhood obesity, but little evidence to quantify their role and that policy makers should not rush into simplistic approaches ahead of credible evidence. By way of example Prof. Livingstone explained that, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to show that sugar per se promotes obesity, or that snacking per se causes obesity.