With the world’s population set to rise to nine billion by 2050, we face huge challenges in providing enough nutritious food for everyone, using methods that are environmentally sustainable. At the same time, as the population ages, more people will experience non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, dementia and cancer. Our world-leading research in Agriculture, Food and Health is addressing these challenges.
Food is not only a basic need but is also vital to our health, wellbeing and cultural identity. The food we eat and how we produce it has wide-ranging impacts on our lives.
From agri-environmental research to diseases which cross the species barrier between animals and people, our applied work relates to real-world issues and extends through the food chain to connect with health, the environment, economic prosperity, heritage and culture.
We apply our expertise to address global issues including climate change, resource degradation, hunger, poverty, diet and health. Our experts work with partners globally and locally to influence both policy and practice to ensure evidence-informed decision making.
To better understand and develop new therapies for complex health conditions such as dementia and heart disease, we work with a well-established network of clinical partners, both in the UK and globally. We work across disciplines to enhance well-being, prevent disease, improve diagnoses, develop new therapies and advance clinical practice.
farm to fork
Protecting bees and biodiversity
As co-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Simon Potts, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, led a team of 77 international experts make recommendations on how to improve policies for the conservation of pollinators and their sustainable use in crop pollination. The recommendations contained in their landmark report – to improve risk assessments for pesticides, increase pollinator habitat protection and better manage commercial pollinators – were adopted by all 196 signatory countries to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Forest management and rural livelihoods
Professor Elizabeth Robinson has been working on forest management and forest tenure reforms in Tanzania for over ten years. Her collaborative research into how changes in forest governance affect rural households’ livelihoods and forest ecosystem services has reached a broad audience of policy makers and practitioners.
Safeguarding the nation’s fruit
In April 2019, Reading was awarded a £2.2m contract from Defra to continue to maintain and curate the National Fruit Collection - the UK’s largest bank of fruit species and one of the largest fruit genetic resource collections in the world. The collection supports global research efforts to advance the productivity, sustainability and resilience of food crops worldwide. For example,Professor Richard Ellis’s research is using the collection to explore if the longer growing season brought about by climate change could allow popular imported species such as Australia’s Granny Smith apple to be more widely grown in the UK in future.
Nutrition and health
Smoked and smoke-flavoured foods are a popular part of our diet, however cancer-causing chemicals can be found in smoke. Reading chemist Dr Jane Parker has pioneered the development of a new filtration technology to improve the food smoking process, working with innovative smokery BeSmoke, and food scientist Dr David Baines. This significantly reduces carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in smoked foods and food ingredients, without losing the tasty smoky flavour. PureSmoke technology was launched to the food and drink industry in 2016 and has been used in Tesco and Fever Tree products. Learn more
Reducing saturated fat in milk
A project to cut the amount of saturated fat in milk by altering a cow’s diet has brought health benefits to millions of UK consumers. Working alongside Marks & Spencer, our researchers achieved a 25 per cent reduction in saturated fat in whole milk – as well as a rise in “good” unsaturated fats – by adding oilseed variants to cows' diets. The innovation has led to improved diets and reduced health risks, including heart disease, for an estimated three million UK milk consumers every year since 2011. Find out more
Cocoa extract for heart health
Our research into the vascular and circulatory benefits of consuming flavanol-containing foods has led to a series of studies into the absorption, metabolism and health effects of cocoa-derived flavanols. This led to a cocoa-extract supplement drink being launched across the USA.
Research Dean, Agriculture, Food and Health
Working with your organisation
Your organisation can benefit from our work through the University's innovation front door.
brain and body
Rethinking childhood vision
During the first two months of life about 75% of infants will, occasionally, have brief periods where their eyes point in different directions. Parents can get concerned by this and seek medical advice, which has traditionally led to hospital referrals.
But Dr Anna Horwood’s research has shown that after four months, only about 3% of infants will continue to have misaligned eyes, and it is only these children that need specialist testing, follow up and treatment.
This has led to changes in clinical practice so fewer anxious parents have to attend specialist appointments, saving an estimated 15,000 hospital appointments, or at least £1.5M per year in the UK alone.Find out more
Investigating the early causes of dementia
Glia are cells which support the neurons in the brain. Professor Mark Dallas is investigating whether damage or changes to these cells decades before the first symptoms of dementia appear could hold clues for early treatment, diagnosis or prevention of the disease. See him explain his work in his 2018 public lecture, ‘Brain Glue: Sticking it to dementia’.
Measuring mood and appetite in older people
Dr Faustina Hwang and colleagues are carrying out a study to understand the links between mood, appetite and health in elderly people. The research involves using a computerised system, the ‘Novel Assessment of Nutrition and Ageing’ (NANA) toolkit to measure self-reported mood and appetite.
Results from two three-week studies carried out in the lab and in people’s own homes showed that system can be used to collect meaningful self-reported information from older people over extended periods of time within their own homes. The system can therefore be used to identify people who are experiencing changes in their mood or appetite, as well as understanding more about the links between mood, appetite, and other health-related variables and conditions. Find out more
Research institutes and centres
Walker Institute (climate resilience)
- Anxiety and Depression in Young People Research Unit (AnDY)
- Charlie Waller Institute
- Speech and Language Therapy Clinic
- Berkshire Memory & Cognition Research Centre
- Centre for Autism
Agriculture and food partnerships:
Knowledge transfer partnerships
Our researchers participate in a number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) to secure real-world impact from our research.
For example, through a KTP with commodities trading company Ecom Agroindustrial (and formerly with Armajaro Ltd) Reading research expertise is being used to create models to better predict the seasonal success of agricultural commodity crops such as soya and cotton. The model is helping Ecom to gain better insights into the commodities market and make more robust investment decisions. The partnership is backed with nearly £140,000 investment from Innovate UK.
For more information about our KTPs visit the University's Knowledge Transfer Centre website.
The University of Reading is working together with our local Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to address some of the most pressing health challenges facing the Thames Valley region. Find out more on our Health Partners page.
Health-related research and teaching at the University of Reading is enhancing wellbeing, preventing disease, improving diagnoses and developing new treatments, as well as informing and improving clinical practice and health governance.
You can find out more about our key research through the Health Stories photography project.
Postgraduate Research Opportunities
For information on postgraduate research opportunities within the Agriculture, Food and Health theme, please visit our research division pages or the Graduate School's website.
You can study on one of our free online courses, hosted by Futurelearn, on subjects including cardiovascular health, obesity, and understanding anxiety, depression and CBT.
Additionally, you can make a direct contribution to our research by registering as volunteer with the Hugh Sinclair Human Nutrition Group.
Our research benefits from a range of outstanding facilities across agriculture food and health from farms to MRI scanners.