Preventing diseases and maintaining quality of life, that’s what it’s all about for the Institute 4 Preventive Health (i4PH), part of the alliance between TU/e, WUR, UU and UMC Utrecht (EWUU). As a member of the steering committee, Ellen Kampman, Chair of Nutrition and Diseases (WUR), calls on scientists to explore this comprehensive field: “We need different areas of expertise for prevention solutions, from social to technical sciences. Moreover, governments and companies are eager for evidence-based interventions and the societal impact of research is high.” On April 19, during the EWUU alliance conference, i4PH will share it’s approach. Kampman gives a preview.
What are the biggest challenges in preventive health?
The big question is: how do we maintain good quality and affordable care for everyone in the future? That means keeping people out of care for as long as possible by preventing disorders and/or chronic diseases, and ensuring optimal quality of life – including independence – when they do have something. After all, health is more than not being sick.
This challenge is so great because 57% of the population has a chronic condition. That’s 9.9 million Dutch people. More than half of them have multiple conditions at the same time, such as asthma and high blood pressure. They visit several doctors for these, but who then monitors the overall picture and optimal health?
We also see large health differences between people of higher and lower socioeconomic status. In the Netherlands, people with primary education or vmbo live on average 4 years shorter than people with a hbo or university education, and even 15 years in poorer perceived health. The higher the income, the higher the healthy life expectancy. Having, for example, welfare benefits or debt is also related to poorer health.
One of the key areas for improvement is a healthier living environment so that everyone can make healthy choices. Think for example of a healthy, affordable and tasty food supply in supermarkets, in the catering of hospitals and at railway stations, or sufficient opportunities to exercise in your neighborhood. Many conditions and chronic diseases are a result of obesity, so we need to limit the obesogenic environment around us. Despite prevention policies, more people are overweight than 10 years ago.
How does the i4PH contribute to this?
By conducting multidisciplinary research into solutions. This way, we include all factors that influence health. Moreover, we get further together than alone. For example, think of projects where TU/e contributes knowledge on AI technologies, WUR on nutrition, lifestyle and living environment, UU on behavior and UMC Utrecht on healthcare or other interdisciplinary collaborations. Together we develop innovations and evidence for successful interventions on which politicians, governments and health insurers can base their policies.
We also try to support researchers. For example, we organize pressure cookers for new ideas for joint research and to stimulate collaborations. We also provide seed money to help them on their way to larger funding applications and support them in finding co-financiers. A great example of where that can lead is the LIFTS project that just received 1.4 million euros from NWO-KCI. Grant makers are also happy with this coordination on applications, because it saves them time and they can target major problems more effectively. And of course we provide exposure for the research projects, including through social media and during the annual conferences of the EWUU alliance and i4PH where scientists, governments, businesses and citizens exchange knowledge and experience.
What makes the i4PH interesting to your colleagues?
Those who look beyond the boundaries of their field often see new opportunities. Precisely because preventive health is a comprehensive field, it interfaces with different research areas. For example, an epidemiologist from WUR and an AI expert from TU/e are investigating a different way of analyzing data in existing datasets from WUR and UMC Utrecht. This gives interesting new angles and makes it possible to gather more (clinical) information about patients. Or think about how WUR’s knowledge on healthy nutrition, the food and green environment can be used in research on healthy cities.
In short, we can often add more value to each other’s research than we think. That is why it is important to engage with each other. So I hope to see many (new) researchers at the April 19 conference. For an update on preventive health and perhaps to start new collaborations.
|ANNUAL CONGRESS EWUU ALLIANCE (APRIL 19, 2023)|
CROSSING BOUNDARIES FOR A HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
How can science contribute to a healthy planet? During this congress, the strategic alliance between Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), Wageningen University & Research (WUR), Utrecht University (UU) and Utrecht University Medical Center (UMC Utrecht) brings together its expertise on preventive health and a circular society, and challenges younger generations to play a leading role in finding solutions for the future.