Estimating the dietary intake of “free sugars” in the teenage population in the United Kingdom

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Dove Yu is a final year Food and Human Nutrition student at Newcastle University. Dove completed the Summer Studentship at the MRC-EWL under the supervision of Birdem Amoutzopoulos and also received support from her advisor Professor Chris Seal at Newcastle University. You can find Dove on Twitter or contact her via her email: doveyu30@hotmail.com

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Project title: ‘Estimating the dietary intake of “free sugars” in the teenage population in the United Kingdom’.

About the project:

The recent SACN report recommends in line with WHO that free sugars intake should not exceed 5% of daily energy intake. However, UK NDNS reports sugar intake as “total sugar” and “non-milk extrinsic sugar”. Therefore, this study aimed to explore the feasibility of estimating free sugar intake using NDNS year 4 data and identifying suitable sugar definitions which can be used in population-based nutrition studies.

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What was the best aspect of your Summer studentship experience?

This studentship allowed me to have a practical experience of doing my own research from thinking the rationale of the study to reporting the study findings. This is so different from doing coursework, where you may receive instructions or guidelines as you need to be creative and show your initiative while doing research. Through literature search, I understood more about the different definitions of dietary sugars and the scientific evidence pertaining to the benefits of reducing free sugar intake. Through designing my own study protocol, I developed my critical thinking and decision making skills. All of the skills that I gained here are very useful for doing my dissertation.

What was the most challenging part of your experience?

Manipulating a large database can always be challenging. I used to maintain a list of tasks that can be accomplished in a short time block. However, some tasks took me a lot more time than I thought to complete. So the challenge really is how you plan, prioritise and use your time effectively. Originally, we aimed to look at all of the foods consumed by the teenage population in NDNS year 1-4 but then we finally considered using NDNS year 4 only due to the limited time available. In doing research, you need to be adaptive as well because there are always changes happening.

Tips for anyone who is interested in applying for the NS – SS or a similar fellowship:

If you want to engage with any projects related to food composition, you’ve got to be well organised and pay attention-to-details. A good plan is important for any type of research project. Do prioritise things that are important. If you really get stuck with your research, think of any alternative ways to complete your tasks and do seek advice from your supervisor. Best of luck for those of you who would like to participate in this good opportunity!!!! 

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The Nutrition Society (NS) offers a unique funding opportunity to a limited number of students to undertake a research project during the summer months. The Summer Studentship Series is a collaboration with all students that took part in the 2016 NS Summer Studentship (NS-SS). I decided to ask everyone a couple of questions related to their projects and general experience, in an attempt to give you an idea of the variety of projects we completed and the interesting elements of each project. My hope is to inspire more students to do research and provide useful information and tips for those who may be interested in applying for the NS Summer Studentship or other similar research projects. I firmly believe research is the way forward in nutrition and I hope these series inspires more of you to get involved in research projects. This year’s Nutrition Society Summer Studentship application is now open and you can find it here.

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