Thematic Support - Nutrition Planetary Health

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Department Name: UNLISTED


Low-income but emerging countries in Africa and South Asia are afflicted by the so-called ‘double burden’ of malnutrition: growth failure and the attendant risks of micronutrient deficiencies, and increasing levels of overweight and obesity that cause diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure). Each of these reduces the health and well-being of the population and inhibits national development.
Developing solutions to these conditions requires a detailed understanding of the causes. These are often not so simple as they may seem. For instance, infections are at least as important as poor dietary sources of iron in determining iron deficiency in children. Likewise, many health conditions that emerge later in life have their origins in prior generations and in the very first days of fetal development.
Our research seeks to understand how diet affects growth and disease and thereby to devise better routes to improve population in low-income nations.
We have recently started a new programme of research in planetary health in response to the growing threat of population growth, climate change and degradation of ecosystems. Our work is aimed at advising governments on strategies to optimise their investments in food systems, agriculture and land use.

Technical Summary

Emerging nations such as The Gambia suffer a double burden of malnutrition: rates of undernutrition in mothers and young children are gradually diminishing but remain a major threat to health and well-being; meanwhile rates of overweight and obesity are escalating rapidly with the attendant risks of diabetes and hypertension.
The Nutrition & Planetary Health (N&PH) Theme focuses on discovery science in 5 focus areas to better identify diet-disease pathways in order to devise and test more effective next-generation interventions.

Early Growth & Development: Having identified pre- and very early post-natal effects on cognitive outcomes this sub-theme is trialling novel supplementary feeding approaches to optimise brain development.

Iron, Infection & Anaemia: Having recently identified novel pathways by which hepcidin-mediated blockade of iron uptake contributes to iron deficiency our research is trialling novel interventions focussed particularly on very early iron supplementation of breast-fed babies. The effects of early life iron deficiency on immune function and vaccine responses are key topics.

Nutritional Genetics & Epigenetics: We have demonstrated that a mother’s nutritional status at the time of conception influences the methylation of certain genomic regions. We hypothesise that this constitutes a system to sense the external environment, record the information and adapt the developing fetal phenotype accordingly. We have evidence that these loci are under genetic control and can alter life-long risk of disease. Reaching a fuller understanding of the mechanisms and sequelae of these changes may help inform future nutritional guidance and/or interventions for mothers-to-be.

Nutrition-Related Chronic Diseases: Burgeoning levels of overweight and obesity, and an ageing population in Africa are leading to multiple chronic diseases. Our research aims to characterise the nature and causes of diabetes, hypertension, sarcopenia and fractures in both rural and urban populations with a view to guide the development of Africa-specific therapeutics.

Planetary Health: In response to the growing threats posed by climate change and planetary degradation we are rapidly growing a portfolio of research aimed at designing local and pan-African adaptive strategies built upon a clearer understanding of the complex interactions between agriculture and food systems, alterations in land use, and human-animal interactions.


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Ali Z (2022) Adherence to EAT-Lancet dietary recommendations for health and sustainability in the Gambia. in Environmental research letters : ERL [Web site]

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Bonell A (2022) Grassroots and Youth-Led Climate Solutions From The Gambia. in Frontiers in public health

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Bonell A (2023) A feasibility study of the use of UmbiFlow™ to assess the impact of heat stress on fetoplacental blood flow in field studies. in International journal of gynaecology and obstetrics: the official organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics

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Bonell A (2023) Equity in planetary health education initiatives. in The Lancet. Planetary health

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Prentice A (2023) Foods for the future and their potential impact on child nutrition in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
MC_UU_00031/1 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,493,333
MC_UU_00031/2 Transfer MC_UU_00031/1 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,493,333
MC_UU_00031/3 Transfer MC_UU_00031/2 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,493,333
MC_UU_00031/4 Transfer MC_UU_00031/3 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,015,400
MC_UU_00031/5 Transfer MC_UU_00031/4 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,015,400
MC_UU_00031/6 Transfer MC_UU_00031/5 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,015,400
MC_UU_00031/7 Transfer MC_UU_00031/6 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,015,400
MC_UU_00031/8 Transfer MC_UU_00031/7 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £2,015,400
MC_UU_00031/9 Transfer MC_UU_00031/8 31/03/2022 30/03/2027 £11,247,000