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Disseminating nutrition research findings to health professionals

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Dr Frankie Robinson, SRD.

Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation, London


Public health nutrition is an important issue because nutrition is linked to many dis eases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), as a causative factor and a risk factor. The Government's White Paper Saving Lives: Our healthier nation (Department of Health, 1999) identified heart disease and stroke as priority areas.

A target has been set to reduce the death rate from coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and related diseases, in people under 75 years of age, by at least two-fifths by the year 2010. It is estimated that this could save approximately 200 000 lives in the UK.

Making nutrition a priority
Nutrition science moves fast, and keeping up with the latest messages to promote a healthy dietary balance is essential. However, as a health-care professional practising today, keeping up-to-date with relevant research is an important but time-consuming job. Working days are filled with a plethora of other tasks, all of which are fighting for priority. Even when time and resources allow, it can be difficult to sift through information to find the most important issues relevant to practice.

For the past 10 years, the European partners in a project called FLAIR-FLOW have recognised the importance of communicating new information about nutrition. As part of the project, easy-to-follow summaries of EU-funded research into food and nutrition have been made available to the food industry. However, a vital part of the process was missing - the information was not reaching health professionals. Now, in a new phase of the project called FLAIR-FLOW 4, which was started in January this year, this issue is being addressed.

In the UK, the British Nutrition Foundation was invited to become involved in the project, to prepare written materials and summarise new food and nutrition research for health professionals. As a result, health professionals have been brought into the loop and topical, up-to-date information should now reach the people who actually put research into practice.

European perspective on nutrition
The EU funds tens of millions of pounds worth of research each year. The projects provide a pan-European perspective on many of the nutrition, food and health issues that are currently in the spotlight. At national and international levels, the final results help to shape future policy and research requirements, while at a more local level, the information may influence the clinical practice of health professionals, the manufacturing and marketing activities of food companies, and the resources produced and used by consumer groups.

What is the role of FLAIR-FLOW 4?
This is a unique project because of the nature of the work and the number of countries involved. FLAIR-FLOW 4 partners in Europe disseminate information using specially written materials, including one-page summaries and 'synthesis documents', and by discussion. Interactions between scientists and end-users is encouraged, as is a special focus on the needs and interests of Eastern European countries and on electronic means of communication.

The intention is for the project as a whole to have, on average, nine new one-page bulletins to disseminate each month for the three-year duration of the project.

What sort of information is being disseminated?
Information tailored to the interests and needs of different groups of end-users (including health-care professionals) throughout Europe is being disseminated through networks established in 24 European countries. FLAIR-FLOW material is being produced in two main forms (Box 1).

Means of distribution
The documents will be distributed via electronic means as far as possible - for example, by email and by directing end-users to FLAIR-FLOW websites. Other mechanisms for distribution in the UK include inserts in publications such as DEFRA's (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) FOOD-LINK newsletter, and a regular column in the British Nutrition Foundation's Nutrition Bulletin. Some information is already available, and includes 15 one-page summaries (Box 2).

Consensus platforms
The final element of the project is the establishment of discussion groups or 'Consensus Platforms'. These are intended as a means of opening a dialogue between scientists conducting EU-funded research and key representatives of end-users in each of the three target groups - a total of 72 participants in all.

Each country will host a panel discussion on a hot topic, or a topic over which there is some confusion or concern. The UK consensus platform for health professionals is likely to take place in May 2002 and will take the format of the BBC's Question Time programme. A steering committee, representing the interests of a range of health professional end-users - including nurses - will be asked to come to a consensus decision over the topic for discussion.

The aim of FLAIR-FLOW 4 it to bring health professionals up-to-date European-funded research into food, nutrition and health. Monthly updates issued through FLAIR-FLOW networks provide quick and simple summaries to keep you informed about the aspects of nutrition that are relevant to your practice.

- For further details contact: Dr Frankie Robinson, SRD, Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation, 52-54 High Holborn, London WC1V 6RQ. Tel: 020-74046504. Fax: 020-7404 6747. Email:

Department of Health. (1999) Saving Lives: Our healthier nation. London: The Stationery Office.

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