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Dietary research in context

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The studies included in CLOSER embody over seventy years of history and changing public health policy in the UK. It is important to understand the broader context at the time when using the dietary data in these cohorts.

Nutritional science is a relatively new discipline with the first vitamin being isolated and chemically defined in 1926. In the early years, the focus of nutritional science was on the identification of specific nutrients and their role in deficiency diseases like scurvy (vitamin C), rickets (vitamin D) and goitre (iodine). On the back of these successes, this approach was extended to identify single nutrients that were related to non-communicable diseases. This reductionist method led to the development of nutrient-based guidelines in the 1980s, e.g. recommendations to reduce fat intake. More recent advances have identified that the impact of nutrition on health and non-communicable diseases is far more complex than a single nutrient approach and to fully understand it, foods and dietary patterns rather than single nutrients should be explored.  A full history of nutritional science can be found in previous publications [11-13].

There are nutrition-related events in UK-history that the researcher should also be mindful of when using the dietary data in longitudinal/CLOSER studies e.g. rationing in the 1940s, an increase in kitchen-appliances and a return of women back into the workforce in the 1980s, and promotion of healthy eating from 1980s. Some of these are outlined in the table below, reproduced from the detailed paper published by the British Nutrition Foundation in 2007 [14].


Timeline of diet-related events in the UK (Reproduced from [14])

DecadePolitical/societal eventsNutritional reports/regulations
1940sSecond World War (1939–1945); WFS introduced (1940); Rationing begins (1940); Labour Government (1945); Heathrow airport opens (1946); First self‐service supermarket opens (1947); National Health Service established (1948)Mandatory fortification of margarine with vitamins A and D began (1942); National Food Survey established (1940); Nutritional standards for school meals introduced (1941); First Food Labelling Order (1944)
1950sConservative Government (1951); London smog (1952); Watson and Crick publish the structure of DNA (1953); End of rationing (1954); Treaty of Rome establishes EEC and CAP (1957); 24% of households own a fridgeNutritional allowances set by BMA (1950)
1960s31% of households owned one or more cars (1961); Labour Government (1964); Eligibility of WFS was restricted to those who received some form of benefit (1968)Bread and Flour regulations (1963); Launch of the first margarine rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (1964); British Nutrition Foundation established (1967); COMA established (1968); Recommended Nutrient Intakes set by COMA (1969)
1970sGeneral Household Survey started (1970); Conservative Government (1970); Decimalisation (1971); Energy crisis (1973); 3‐day week (1973); Labour Government (1974); UK accession to EEC and became part of CAP (1973); Drought (1975/76); Conservative Government (1979); 40% of households own a freezer (1979)Burkitt hypothesis – emphasis switching to preventative nutrition (1972); COMA report on Diet and Heart Health (1974); Recommended Daily Amounts set by COMA (1979)
1980sThe Black report highlights inequalities in health (1980); Andreisson CAP reform introduces milk quotas and voluntary set‐aside (1987/88); Salmonella food scare (1988); 50% of households own a microwaveFood‐based guidelines replace nutritional standards for school meals (1980); NACNE report published (1983); COMA report on Diet and Cardiovascular Disease (1984); Introduction of foods with a healthier nutritional profile, e.g. low fat, reduced sugar (1985); COMA report on Dietary Sugars and Human Disease (1989)
1990sHealth of the Nation published (1992); Nutrition Taskforce set up (1992); MacSharry CAP reform (1992); Fairtrade foundation established in UK (1992); BSE food scare (1995/6); Labour Government (1997); 72% households owned one or more cars (1998); Saving Lives – Our Healthier Nation published (1999); Policy Action Team report 13 published citing problems of poor food access in low income neighbourhoods (1999)Dietary Reference Values set by COMA (1991); COMA report on the Nutritional Aspects of Cardiovascular Disease(1994); Folic acid labelling scheme introduced (1997); WCRF report (1997); COMA report on the Nutritional Aspects of the Development of Cancer (1998)
2000sFSA established (2000); EU enlargement (2004); National School Fruit and Vegetable scheme rolled out across primary schools (2004); Choosing Health – Making Healthier Choices Easier published (2004); Healthy Start scheme launched to replace the WFS (2006); School Food Trust established (2006)COMA report on Folic Acid and the Prevention of Disease (2000); Establishment of SACN (2000); Reintroduction of nutritional standards for school meals (2001); SACN report on Salt and Health (2003); SACN report on Folate and Disease Prevention (2006); DH Healthy Living Strategy introduced (2007)

Notes. BMA: British Medical Association; CAP: Common Agricultural Policy; COMA: Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition; DH: Department of Health; EEC: European Economic Community; EU: European Union; FSA: Food Standards Agency; NACNE: National Advisory Committee on Nutrition Education; SACN: Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition; WCRF: World Cancer Research Fund; WFS: Welfare Food Scheme.


Explore additional background detail:

Learn more about the individual studies covered by this guide and their dietary measurements:

Learn about harmonisation in the context of dietary data:

Further information:

This page is part of the CLOSER resource: ‘A guide to the dietary data in eight CLOSER studies’.