Personalised nutrition for young adults

Many things can influence what we eat, including our biology, behaviours and environment. Dr Katherine Livingstone’s research aims to better understand how these influences interact to design more effective healthy eating advice.

Dr Livingstone has embarked on a project, funded through a five-year National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Emerging Leadership Investigator Grant, to design tailored approaches to improve dietary patterns in young adults.

Unhealthy diets are now considered a top risk factor for morbidity and mortality, and young adults have some of the unhealthiest diets of all age groups. Reasons for unhealthy eating include a person’s biology (e.g. genes), behaviours (e.g. meal skipping) and environment (e.g. neighbourhood), which explains why current ‘one size fits all’ approaches to improving diets are failing.

Personalised nutrition is the provision of dietary advice tailored on the basis of a person’s characteristics and is one of the science priorities outlined in the Australian Academy of Science’s Decadal Plan for the Science of Nutrition.

“I’m aiming to develop healthy eating approaches that consider how biological, behavioural and environmental characteristics interact to influence overall diet, and how to develop advice based on these characteristics,” Dr Livingstone explained.

“This new knowledge is critically needed prior to the design of tailored interventions. My vision is to create a focus on personalised nutrition and dietary patterns in Australia that will be of global significance.”

Having commenced the project in 2020, Dr Livingstone has so far focused on the first aim of her NHMRC Investigator Grant project – to determine key biological, behavioural and environmental characteristics of young adults that influence dietary patterns, obesity and cardiometabolic health.

“I am using existing data from large cohorts of young Australian and European adults to address this aim. I’m particularly interested in understanding the dietary patterns of young adults and how these diets impact on their underlying biology, behaviours and health,” she said.

She will then explore the complexity of food choice decision-making through a series of studies in young adults. Lastly, she will co-develop personalised nutrition message content and best modes of delivery with young adults and key stakeholders, such as dietitians. These findings will be evaluated for effective implementation into routine practice.

“The outcomes of this project will inform the design of tailored approaches for healthcare providers to incorporate into routine practice. My hope is that my research program will contribute new knowledge to advance the field of precision healthcare,” Dr Livingstone said.