American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Angel Gil

Interview with Dr. Angel Gil

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation With Dr. Angel Gil, President, IUNS 20th International Congress of Nutrition

The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) is pleased to invite you to attend the International Union of Nutrition Sciences' (IUNS) 20th International Congress of Nutrition.  This year's meeting will be held from September 15 -20 in Grenada, Spain.  The theme for 2013 is “Joining Cultures Through Nutrition.”  As the U.S. Adhering Body for the IUNS, ASN has been hard at work to spread the word about the meeting, which provides a unique opportunity to bring together the world's top minds in nutrition research and clinical practice.  More information on the Congress can be found at the IUNS website.  A call for abstracts has been issued, and ASN members are strongly encouraged to submit proposals for parallel, satellite, and sponsored symposia.  The call for abstracts can be found here; the submission deadline is February 3.

To find out more about what to expect from the Congress, we spoke with Dr. Angel Gil, President and Chairman for this year's meeting.  Dr. Gil serves on the faculty for the University of Granada Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology Center of Biomedical Research.  He was excited to provide an overview of the many topics to be discussed as well as his opinion on the issues facing nutrition professionals on an international scale.

Interviewer: What should ASN members considering attending the IUNS International Congress of Nutrition expect from this year's meeting?

Dr. Gil: It's very important for members to understand the significance of this meeting being held in Granada.  Historically, Granada is known as the last redoubt of Islam in Western Europe, and, as such, it has retained a reputation as a place that values different cultures and beliefs.  In the spirit of that openness, the theme for this year's meeting emphasizes the importance of different cultures coming together to discuss global nutrition challenges.  We also have a particular focus on issues faced by Mediterranean countries and Latin American countries.  We have received many proposals from Asia, North America, and Australia as well and intend to assemble a program that represents all countries and regions.  We have more than 80 parallel symposia grouped in eight different tracks, including nutrition research, clinical nutrition, and epidemiology.

Interviewer: What specific issues would you like to see covered by this year's panels and discussions?

Dr. Gil: In the nutrition research track, I think one of the most exciting trends we're seeing thus far is the personalization of nutrition.  We have a number of proposals on how early nutrition interacts with our genes to contribute to health or, alternatively, to the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases.  We are also seeing a number of proposals that discuss the use of nutrition in disease management and prevention.  The findings of several international projects from NIH and the European Union will be discussed, particularly studies tackling obesity in children.  Previews of the parallel symposia can be found here.

Interviewer: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing nutritionists on an international scale?

Dr. Gil: We need to identify more biomarkers for nutrition and improve our focus on the relationship between genomics and public health, particularly in context with personalized nutrition.  This personalized approach should begin with further investigation into maternal and infant nutrition in developing countries.  On the other hand, developed nations face a major epidemic of childhood obesity.  We'd like to make recommendations to improve child feeding on both fronts.  Nutrition professionals are in a position to use this data to improve feeding in various cultural communities, but we must do so in a way that takes into account the importance of traditional and indigenous foods.  We must also consider the need to improve nutrition in a sustainable way on a global level.  Additionally, it is essential that we investigate how nutrition works in concert with physical activity to prevent noncommunicable diseases.  For years, most studies in nutrition have focused on diet and eating patterns, but now we have more data showing that good nutrition must be balanced with exercise to offer maximum benefits for patients.  Another issue of interest that will be discussed at the Congress is the importance of functional foods, such as probiotics and prebiotics.  Promotion of these foods may very well be the key to helping patients make healthy choices across different areas.  Finally, it's important to acknowledge the impact of the global recession on nutrition.  There is significant support for the impact of economic factors on healthy eating choices, or lack thereof.  We need to combat this trend by offering easy to understand messages on how to manage food budgets and how to cook them in healthy and cost-efficient ways.

Interviewer: How can organizations like ASN help tackle these issues, and how can ASN members get more involved in nutrition advocacy on an international level?

Dr. Gil: ASN is by far the most important organization in nutrition worldwide.  International scientists all want to publish in The Journal of Nutrition, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and Advances in Nutrition.  I do believe that ASN can also help other countries get better nutrition information.  ASN has already formed a number of agreements with other countries, particularly with Asian countries.  I think it's important now for ASN to reach out to Latin American countries, to provide more materials in Spanish, and to cooperate with other programs to support young scientists of all backgrounds.

Interviewer: What are the most pressing nutrition issues in Spain?

Dr. Gil: The biggest issue facing Spain is the epidemic of childhood obesity.  As in many developed countries, cardiovascular problems and other noncommunicable diseases are a major concern for Spanish citizens of all ages.  In 1984, the prevalence of childhood obesity was around 4 percent.  Now, we are at 17 percent to 18 percent of the total population.  This drastic increase is bound to cause a much higher rate of obesity-related illnesses in patients of a much younger age.  Already we are seeing large numbers of children developing markers for metabolic syndrome.

Interviewer: Can you give members an overview of your current research focus?

Dr. Gil: I began my career in nutrition in the early 1970s with a focus on the biological components of human milk and infant nutrition.  My group is currently working on a number of issues, including lipid metabolism and how components of the Mediterranean diet influence chronic diseases and obesity, especially in children.  We are also interested in identifying gene variants associated with obesity and early-onset metabolic syndrome.  Last, but not least, we have a relatively small group interested in the isolation and characterization of new probiotics in cell, animal, and human models.

Interviewer: Is there anything else that you would like to say to ASN members about the meeting?

Dr. Gil: I want to personally invite ASN members to come to this year's Congress.  I will have the opportunity to meet many of you at ASN's Scientific Sessions & Annual Meeting at EB in Boston.  I would like to emphasize that we are putting together a Congress of scientific excellence, but I would also like to invite members to take this chance to network with nutrition professionals from across the globe.  I would additionally like to encourage them to take the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful and historical cities in the world. 

January 2013