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Nadia Slimani

Nadia Slimani 131x180I was born in 1962 in Toulon in France. As so many from this part of the Mediterranean region, I have always lived and breathed internationally, with friends and colleagues from different cultures and origins. My childhood environment, and a very tolerant and open-minded education, has driven my professional choices towards international research, offering opportunities to work with and for the interest of the largest range of people, above consideration of race, colour, culture or religion.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its essence and mission is for me the best working place I could dream of, to put into practice some of these general principles and contribute to joint efforts in the challenging domain of nutrition research. Thus for most of my career, I have been working at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO research agency located in Lyon, France. My current appointment, as head of the dietary exposure assessment group within the IARC nutrition and metabolism section, allows me to lead and empower others including junior researchers.

My underlying reasoning for continuing my professional life at IARC is that our challenging research requires a sort of sacerdotal long-term investment and commitment to shape the future. This deviates from the current recommended strategy that encourages frequent job and employer changes. My commitment and path has been shaped by the unique opportunity given to me when I completed my studies. Right from its beginning I contributed to the setting up and then follow-up of one of the largest nutritional cohort studies worldwide, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) (with around 500,000 subjects in 23 European centres), coordinated by IARC as led by Elio Riboli.

As a young enthusiastic researcher, this was an intense challenge, forcing innovation, creation, perseverance and questioning, within a complex multi-disciplinary partnership. Right from the beginning my task has been to set up and coordinate the international dietary component of the EPIC project, with the ultimate aim to improve comparability, centralisation, data sharing and combined analyses of dietary information collected from the different participating centres.

Among the most innovative methodological developments has been our standardised 24-hour computerised programme (EPIC-Soft) across the EPIC centres, built up over the last 15 years. We have provided strictly comparable food and nutrient data across European populations. This serves as a valuable resource better to understand associations between diet and disease. Considering IARC’s mission to disseminate knowledge and support research and other related activities worldwide, new collaborations have been initiated to implement this standardised methodology in low and medium income countries, starting with Latin America.

More science-based and reliable data are urgently needed, to guide decision-makers in agreeing concerted and radical actions to fight against the current double diet-disease burden, affecting particularly the more vulnerable populations and population groups.

Not only researchers but also women, mothers and citizens are rightly disturbed by what is obviously a heavy burden of disease caused by inappropriate diet. All conscious people want to act against this, for the sake of current and coming generations. This raised awareness needs to include the food industry itself. This will require all synergetic and antagonistic forces to converge. The so-called ‘free market’ ideology that challenges the fundamental human right to be fed well is a societal debate for this and coming decades.