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Nutrigenomics for Global Health: Ethical Challenges for Underserved Populations
Nutrigenomics for Global Health
Nutrigenomics covers disparate fields of nutrition science and has been defined in many different ways. In fact, this emerging field of science has multiple facets, many of which do not generate the same ethical issues. In particular, different ethical issues emerge concerning the extent to which nutrigenomics may actually improve global health, i.e., in terms of worldwide improvement of health, reduction of disparities, and protection against global threats that disregard national borders. Nutrigenomics raises many hopes and expectations on that score. However it remains unclear and controversial whether nutrigenomics studies and their actual or potential applications will actually benefit developing countries and their populations. Different forces may drive the choice of research priorities and shape the claims that are made when communicating the goals or the results of nutrigenomics studies and applications. This article proposes to assess expectations and claims in nutrigenomics, with respect to their respective potential impact on global health and the ethical issues they raise. Nutrigenomics is and should be more than premature claims and much debated promises about personalized nutritional interventions on individuals. Beyond questionable commercial claims, nutrigenomics is also knowledge about and recognition of the considerable impacts of underfeeding and malnutrition on the genome (and epigenome) integrity and stability. As such, nutrigenomics research is a valuable opportunity to revive and give strength to the debate about the unacceptable consequences of hunger and malnutrition worldwide, and to support a newly and potentially significant convergence in research priorities that could benefit both developed and developing countries.
Godard, B. & Hurlimann T. "Nutrigenomics for Global Health: Ethical Challenges for Underserved Populations" Current Pharmacogenomics and Personalized Medicine, 2009; 7(3): 205-14.