Raw meat, overfed people and experimental excellence

WINSS Roundup Day 1


(Chicago, 19 October 2016) The obesity epidemic and animal welfare issues dominated discussions on the opening day of the WALTHAM International Nutrition Science Symposium (WINSS).

Starting the proceedings, Professor Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington attacked some common myths and misperceptions about diet and obesity. Simplistic analyses of foodstuffs failed to recognise the importance of nutrient and energy densities. For instance spinach is nutrient dense, but has few calories. Potato chips are the opposite. So dollar for dollar, chips are a cheaper energy source – particularly important if you are on a low income.

The result is that we are seeing more and more people who are overfed and undernourished, he argued. What is needed is a more sophisticated understanding between nutrient density, cost and the socio-economic factors that influence what we eat.

The message for those concerned about pet obesity is clear. We cannot simply state that pets are fed too much and urge smaller portions. A broader approach that takes into account nutrient and calorific density and the social contexts in which pets are fed will be needed.

The health and wellbeing theme continued with an animal perspective via a keynote presentation by Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, one of the world’s leading experts in the global push to reduce, refine and replace animals in scientific experiments – commonly referred to as the “3 Rs”.

Tracing the modern movement back to the influential paper published by UK scientists Russell and Burch in 1959, MacArthur-Clark charted progress in the 3Rs agenda, now moving forward with great speed as computer modelling and bioengineering become increasingly powerful research techniques.

New tools which can aid 3Rs experimental design were also shared, and a warning given that the science community needs to address rising concerns about non-reproducible results and research quality generally if momentum is to be maintained.

Other presenters covered a diverse range of topics, from the role of nutrition in recovery times experienced by weight pulling dogs, to the effects of moisture, starch and selenium levels in pet food.

WALTHAM’s Phil Watson presented two studies. One strongly indicating that high calcium diets did not lead to adverse health issues in dogs, although adult dogs had a higher tolerance to calcium than growing puppies. The other showing that optimal dog diet levels of amino acids (in this case methionine) could be established with minimal stress to animals, simply by training dogs to put their muzzles into a breath collection mask, and analysing the contents using a technique known as indicator amino acid oxidation.

Nick Cave of Massey University in New Zealand addressed the growing trend of raw meat diets and their effect on the microbiome of dogs. The meaty meals tested were particularly low in carbohydrate compared to commercial kibble based foods. Microbial biodiversity declined by over a quarter in the raw fed dogs after 9 weeks. This is likely to be due to the lack of a suitable substrate for certain types of bacteria. There is evidence that a reduced microbiome may have negative long term impacts on animal health.
“For dogs in this instance, meat and two veg is better than meat alone,” said Cave.

Richard Hill of the University of Florida ended the day presenting a study on the energy requirements of swimming in husky dogs. Pet obesity is as much due to lack of exercise as over feeding, so any high octane activity that can burn off calories could be a useful weight management strategy. The dogs, says Hill, love the swimming!

Full details of all the presentations can be found in the WINSS 2016 online proceedings

Two presentations made by WALTHAM’s Phil Watson can be viewed on Slideshare: