Team of Scientists Forecast Direction of Nutrition Research by End of the Decade

Commentary published in Journal of American College of Nutrition 

November 19, 2014, CLEARWATER, Fla.—What will be the “hottest” areas of nutrition research  by the end of the decade?  A team of distinguished nutrition scientists, gathered for a panel symposium in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Kosuna Distinguished Lecture in Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, have provided their forecast. Their assessment is contained in the commentary, “Forecasting Nutrition Research in 2020,”, published in Volume 33, Issue 4, 2014 of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN).  

The authors who provide the forecast are: Robert M. Hackman and Carl L. Keen, both of the Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis, Calif.;  Bharat B. Aggarwal, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Tex.; Rhona S. Applebaum, The Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, Ga.; Ralph W. deVere White, Department of Urology and University of California, Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, Sacramento, Calif.; Michael A. Dubick*, U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas; David Heber, Department of Medicine and Department of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, Calif.; Toshinori Ito, Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka, Japan; Guy H. Johnson, Johnson Nutrition Solutions, LLC, Minneapolis, Minn.; Barbara L. Winters, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J.;  and Sidney J. Stohs, School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, Creighton University, Omaha, Neb.  The Kosuna Distinguished Lecture in Nutrition and panel symposium at the University of California, Davis is supported by an unrestricted gift from Amino Up Chemical Co., Ltd., Sapporo, Japan.

Nutrition’s Trends: 2014-2020
The panel identified the following ten areas of research which they believe will be the focus of nutritional scientists in the next six years:

(1) Global Food Security:  The scientists predict that global food security, food safety, and sustainability will occupy the spotlight by 2020 as all are influenced by global climate change and access to clean water.  Additional issues to be looked at will include the increasing development of genetically modified (GM) food crops.  

(2) Microbiome/Microflora: By the end of the decade, scientists will determine how regulating the microorganisms in the body can advance disease prevention, with a focus on the effects of nutrition, dietary supplements, and physical activity on specific microflora populations and/or the interrelationships among populations. 

(3) Gene Expression:  Research will examine how nutritional programming of gene expression, both in the human genome and in our associated microflora microbiome impacts disease expression and progression.  By 2020, the panel predicts that scientists will better understand how many diseases have their roots during the gestation of the fetus (in utero) and in early childhood development, and how nutrition might change the manifestation of these diseases.  

(4) Energy Metabolism:  Viewing energy balance as a multidimensional system, rather than as isolated parts that somehow work together, will lead to new insights and solutions to address the obesity problem, in both developed and developing countries. One strategic use of nutrition to enhance bioenergetics will be a focus on cellular energy and mitochondrial function. Dietary manipulations and use of certain food components or supplements may be a means to enhance mitochondrial function and thus affect energy metabolism and energy fluxes in the body. 

(5) Cancer:  By 2020, genomic and metabolomic profiles and large dataset analysis will offer new opportunities to identify relevant indices and biomarkers and conduct timely, cost-efficient clinical interventions on nutrition and cancer.  Medical professionals will expand their thinking about the role of natural products to consider how they might complement conventional care, such as increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy or radiation.

(6) Inflammation:  Future nutrition research will likely focus on the role of diet and nutraceuticals to help moderate inflammation and possibly reduce the risk of cancer and other inflammatory mediated diseases and conditions.  Nutrition scientists must identify foods, beverages, and dietary patterns that are both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory.

(7) Aging:  The increasing number of aging persons will beg the question of “Who wants to live a long and unhealthy life, where quality of life deteriorates slowly and for a long time?”  Nutrition research will address that issue along with cancer and vascular disorders, obesity, metabolic syndrome, locomotive syndrome, cognitive impairment, and problems related to taste, mastication, and swallowing. 

(8)  Bioengineering:  Advances in bioengineering will continue to bring new approaches to clinical nutrition and to nutrition education.  This will lead to research espousing the development and use of new monitoring technologies and tools that individuals might use to better follow their nutritional and health status. 

(9)  Nutrition Education:  Food choices are very personal, and modification of food intake is a complex issue that requires much new research. Although educators can provide people with multiple types of useful information, food choices usually are based on four factors: flavor, economics, availability, and convenience.  Research is needed to identify which messages and vehicles will effectively reach which audiences to effect behavior change and improve overall health.

(10) Interdisciplinary and Cross-discipline Collaborations:  Emphasis on translational research will be more common, requiring collaborations among those in basic and clinical research, nutritional epidemiology and biostatistics, food science, exercise science, nutrition communications, public policy, and scientific ethics. Teams of researchers rather than individual scientists will produce answers to the most critical health issues, working across disciplines to bring a holistic and more representative approach to successful and sustainable solutions.

Taken together, these 10 elements will usher in the next decade where the emphasis will be on personalized nutrition based, in part, on a better understanding of the role that one’s genetic background has, along with a better appreciation of the interplay between diet and the microbiome.

“Greater collaboration is likely among members of academia, industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations, with the goal of providing innovative and cost-effective solutions to help people enjoy healthier, longer, and more productive lives,” according to the authors.

*Note:  The views of Dr. Dubick are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the U.S. Department of the Army or the U.S. Department of Defense. 

About the Journal of the American College of Nutrition
The Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN) publishes original and innovative research articles, commentaries and other data about nutrition which is useful for researchers, physicians, and other health care professionals. The journal is published six times per year and is the flagship publication of the American College of Nutrition.

NOTE TO EDITORS: The article is available online at no charge at To schedule an interview with a member of the review team, please contact the American College of Nutrition’s Media Relations Department at

Keywords: clinical nutrition, obesity, nutrition education, nutrition forecasting, public health