Meet Our Corresponding Members: Prof. Pulani Lanerolle, BSc. (Hons), PhD
Where are you from?
I am a Professor in Nutrition at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Tell us about your work in general and about the survey you contributed to GDD.
Our most recent work has been centered around studying non-communicable disease (NCD) related to nutrition and body composition in different age groups. The particular data that we contributed towards the GDD was a part of a series of data from a community-based cross-sectional study of women living in urban Colombo. The study identified the importance of lifestyle-pattern analysis in understanding cardiometabolic risk and highlighted a need for re-evaluating physical activity recommendations in urban populations.
Our research team is currently studying a cohort of babies from birth to two years as part of a multicenter study on Longitudinal Body Composition as well as body composition and energy expenditure using stable isotope methods among adolescents.
Previous work included the impact of the global financial crisis on the urban poor in a multicenter study for Resource Centre on Urban Agriculture and Food Security and UNHABITAT. Helping to translate nutrition research into meaningful population goals has been possible through my work with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization’s Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group (Diet and Health). Developing evidence-informed strategies such as the nutrient profile model for controlling the marketing of foods and beverages to children is an important step Sri Lanka has taken towards realizing the NCD and nutrition policy objectives.
How did you become interested in the field of nutrition?
Early exposures before studying at university had left me thinking about the impact of nutrition on disease in low and middle-income countries. As an undergraduate at the University of Southampton, UK, I was able to further my initial interests through studying dietary intakes among adolescents as part of my research thesis. I began to understand the differences, yet similarities in the problems faced by young children in a developed country as compared to a lower middle-income country kindling the urge to study nutrition, especially public health nutrition, at greater depth.
What is one of the biggest nutritional challenges facing your country today?
Sri Lanka is currently in nutrition transition with a significant double burden of nutrition. The biggest challenge we face is in trying to create awareness and value addition to the need for a healthy diet and lifestyle, in a context where change towards a technology driven, media influenced, and convenience-based lifestyle is favoured.
There is a significant proportion of the population who are undernourished currently or have been in the past and are therefore lesser able to cope with excess energy intake. Effective interventions require an understanding that improving the quality and variety of the diet, together with improved physical activity and sedentary behavior has potential in addressing both undernutrition as well as NCD in most segments of the population. It is imperative that these practices are instilled in the young child, for which the public and health care personnel need to be on the same platform of motivation and understanding. Achieving this paradigm shift is the challenge.
How do you see GDD factoring into your research in the future?
GDD provides a great resource of global data which is accessible and allows comparisons between our data and global data. It will work as a base to greater understanding of the common problems faced by countries and to understand and learn from their successes and lessons learnt in tackling such problems. The ability to share data will lessen the need for unnecessary duplication of work.
What directions or results do you hope to see in the field of global nutrition research in the future?
Asia makes up over a half of the world’s population. However, data from the Asian region on diets and their effects on both under and overweight as well as NCD is inadequate. The development of advice and guidance on diet, physical activity and health would benefit from more data from Asian populations whose environments, genetics and hence possibly susceptibility to disease may differ. The contribution of the rising consumption of packaged foods as well as the informal food sector to food security, nutrition status and to NCD are particular gaps from middle income countries.
From a global context research needs to be carried out to assess the most sustainable diets and their impact on NCD. Further, it is important to study the factors that hinder equity in providing a healthy diet which is nutritionally adequate and has a low risk of NCD.