Invited Review

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2009) 63, 2–10; doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602923; published online 10 October 2007

Which are the greatest recent discoveries and the greatest future challenges in nutrition?

M B Katan1, M V Boekschoten2,3, W E Connor4, R P Mensink5, J Seidell1, B Vessby6 and W Willett7

  1. 1Institute of Health Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2Division of Human Nutrition, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  3. 3Nutrigenomics Consortium, TI Food and Nutrition, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  4. 4Department of Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR, USA
  5. 5Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  6. 6Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences/Clinical Nutrition Research, University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden
  7. 7Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

Correspondence: Professor MB Katan, Institute of Health Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, Amsterdam 1081 HV, The Netherlands. E-mail:

Received 17 June 2007; Revised 23 August 2007; Accepted 29 August 2007; Published online 10 October 2007.





Nutrition science aims to create new knowledge, but scientists rarely sit back to reflect on what nutrition research has achieved in recent decades.



We report the outcome of a 1-day symposium at which the audience was asked to vote on the greatest discoveries in nutrition since 1976 and on the greatest challenges for the coming 30 years. Most of the 128 participants were Dutch scientists working in nutrition or related biomedical and public health fields. Candidate discoveries and challenges were nominated by five invited speakers and by members of the audience. Ballot forms were then prepared on which participants selected one discovery and one challenge.



A total of 15 discoveries and 14 challenges were nominated. The audience elected Folic acid prevents birth defects as the greatest discovery in nutrition science since 1976. Controlling obesity and insulin resistance through activity and diet was elected as the greatest challenge for the coming 30 years. This selection was probably biased by the interests and knowledge of the speakers and the audience. For the present review, we therefore added 12 discoveries from the period 1976 to 2006 that we judged worthy of consideration, but that had not been nominated at the meeting.



The meeting did not represent an objective selection process, but it did demonstrate that the past 30 years have yielded major new discoveries in nutrition and health.


human, history, policy



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