Nutrition research

Southampton’s nutrition research focusses on diet and lifestyle throughout the whole life-course – from before birth into older age – to help people make healthier life choices and prevent diseases.

Theme lead: Professor Keith Godfrey

Nutrition research areas

Childhood obesity, growth and development

Predicting and preventing obesity and disease
Professor Keith Godfrey
Our research aims to prevent childhood obesity by identifying risk factors and biological processes before conception and in pregnancy that are altered by nutrition and lifestyle choices.
Working with families, a key focus is defining links between the environment in the womb, processes that control how our genes work – ‘epigenetics’ – and childhood obesity.
Other work in preconception, pregnancy planning and the role of diet and nutritional supplements before and during pregnancy further supports the prevention of obesity and other diseases.

Working with the data science research theme , we are looking for new markers in pregnancy that are linked to the mother’s diet and lifestyle, and can help predict obesity and other diseases in children.

We are also developing profiles of epigenetic and microbial characteristics that reliably predict obesity risk and cognitive development, and using our understanding of gut microorganisms to identify ways to prevent food allergies and asthma.

Participatory research through LifeLab
Professor Mark Hanson

LifeLab is an educational laboratory-style facility dedicated to improving adolescent health by giving school students the opportunity to learn first-hand the science behind health and lifestyle choices, including the impact on their health and that of their future children.

We are expanding LifeLab to include primary school-aged children and piloting a population-wide extension to assess the impact on obesity across generations.
Neonatal nutrition
Dr Mark Johnson and Professor Mark Beattie
Our research in neonatal nutrition aims to improve the nutritional care, growth and outcomes for babies born prematurely.

Better growth and nutrition during the hospital stay of premature infants has been linked with improvements in development in childhood, and we also know that pattern of nutrition and growth in early life can influence a baby’s risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, in adulthood.

By understanding how the nutrition a premature babies receive influences the way in which they grow (both how much they growth but also their proportions of muscle and fat), and in turn their development, we can better understand how best to feed them for long term health.

Nutrition and healthy ageing

Understanding the links between nutrition and health, and ways to promote health and independence in later life.
Professor Helen Roberts

Preventing malnutrition and frailty
Working with the behavioural science cross-cutting theme, we are looking into supporting healthier diet and physical activity in older adults in the community through new nutritional and lifestyle approaches.
Predicting treatment responses and frailty
We’re working to identify nutritional and immune markers predicting how individuals will respond to specific anti-inflammatory therapies for inflammatory musculoskeletal and autoimmune disorders, such as arthritis, linking with the national NIHR Joint and Related Inflammatory Disease TRC.
Applying data science insights, we’re identifying markers of osteoporosis, sarcopenia (muscle weakening) and frailty by studying the makeup of muscle cells from older participants in our Hertfordshire Cohort.
Our work is analysing the nutritional status of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients to understand how nutrition affects infection risk and vaccine response. This work opens the door to optimising immune responses to infection and immunisation in frail older people.
Personalising nutritional care
Working with partners at other organisations, through the testing of new fortified foods, we’re working to improve nutrient intake among older people living with dementia. This builds on our established work in elderly care and a pioneering mealtime assistance programme to reduce malnutrition in hospitalised older people.

Obesity, liver disease and cancer

Tackling major health issues caused by unhealthy lifestyles and poor nutrition
Professor Philip Calder

Treating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common metabolic disease that typically affects adults who are overweight or obese. It increases the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes and heart disease. We are now expanding our early-phase trials of omega-3 fatty acids and of pre and probiotic supplements to develop new interventions to help tackle the disease.
Preventing cancer complications
Working with the behavioural science cross-cutting theme, we are looking into improving breast cancer patients’ wellbeing and preventing obesity-associated recurrent and second cancers through new nutritional and lifestyle approaches.
Predicting surgical and cancer outcomes.
With the microbial science cross-cutting theme we are investigating predicting outcome after bariatric surgery based on the make up of the gut microbiome (the natural population of bacteria and microorganisms in our gut). We are also working to understand the role of the gut microbiome response to cancer immunotherapy.
Personalising nutritional care
Using our NIHR STEPWISE trial platform and behavioural science cross-cutting theme insights, we’re identifying new ways to help patients with poor mental health better manage their weight.
We’re continuing our work on personalised treatment of alcohol harm, using routine NHS data to identify markers of alcohol harms and the ‘data warehouse’ developed by the data science cross-cutting theme to pilot new ways to prevent alcohol-related liver disease and breast cancer.
In NAFLD we are expanding our early-phase trials of pre/probiotic supplements in tackling the disease.

Impact case studies

Image by Michele Blackwell

Largest ever omega-3 study for early non alcoholic fatty liver disease

Image by Josh Olalde

Tackling surging alcoholic
liver disease

Image by Nathan Dumlao

BRC research part of national Big Challenge on obesity


The cost of malnutrition in the UK economic report

Current BRC-supported Early Career Researchers

Title of PhD research
Faidra Laskou
Med Doctor
Understanding the relationship between muscle and bone in older adults: a possible pathway to improved musculoskeletal health in later life
Prof Elaine Dennison
Natalie Cox
Med Doctor
Appetite and aging (the microbiome, appetite, nutrition and aging)
Prof Helen Roberts
Ravita Taheem
Public Health Practitioner
Optimising the Role of Local Government Policy in Tackling Childhood Obesity
Prof Mark Hanson
Declan McDonnell
Med Doctor
Dietary and nutritional assessment in Pancreatic cancer patients undergoing surgical intervention
Mr Zaed Hamady
Jean Zhang
Med Doctor
Does a participant-led behaviour change intervention in community-dwelling, older adults lead to changes in lifestyle factors associated with poor musculoskeletal health and improved muscle outcomes?
Prof Elaine Dennison
Aneurin Young
Med Doctor
Clinical, Nutritional, Genomic and Metabolomic influences on growth and body composition in very preterm infants.
Dr Mark Johnson
Elizabeth Taylor
Associations of change in modifiable maternal characteristics between successive live pregnancies with birth outcomes and childhood overweight/obesity in the second sibling
Dr Nisreen Alwan
Chandni Jacob
Medical Doctor
Life course approach to public policy for prevention of non-communicable diseases
Prof Mark Hanson
Imogen Stafford
Integration of health informatics 'big data' for clinical translation in paediatric inflammatory bowel disease
Prof Sarah Ennis
Sarah Shaw
Public Health Nutritionist
The influence of the physical food environment and social networks on adolescents’ food purchasing and dietary quality.
Dr Christina Vogel
Ruth Durdin
Cardiometabolic phenotyping and bone health in midlife and older age: A comparison across ethnic groups
Dr Kate Ward
Vicky Cracknell
Placental lipid flux in gestational diabetes and the effects of myoinositol
Prof Rohan Lewis
Josh Bilson
Role of adipose tissue function in fatty liver disease
Dr Jazz Sethi