Meet Our Partners: GENuS

Harvard TH Chan

Please introduce yourself!

I’m Matt Smith, a Research Associate working at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Together with my colleagues at Harvard and Tufts, we’ve built the Global Expanded Nutrient Supply (GENuS) dataset, a global estimate of the amounts of macro and micro-nutrients in the diet and the foods that supply them. 


Tell us about the GENuS's purpose, value, and goals. 

GENuS is an estimate of the 23 nutrients provided by 225 foods for 34 age-sex groups in 182 countries (96% of global population) since 1961. Our goal with GENuS is to identify the foods in the diet that are supplying various important nutrients to populations globally. This is an important piece of knowledge, because it allows us to determine how changing access to any of them will affect the nutritional security of vulnerable groups. To that end, we have put GENuS to work looking at the implications of many global environmental changes — loss of pollinators, fisheries declines, rising carbon dioxide levels — on human nutrition and health. 


Describe the overall approach you take to achieve those goals.

Our approach to constructing GENuS is to provide a novel combination of datasets — UN-FAO food balance sheets, national food production and trade data, regional food composition tables, Global Dietary Database data on demographic dietary patterns — to isolate the importance of each food to the diet. We also share all GENuS datasets openly to enable researchers working anywhere to use them to answer their own interesting questions.


What is the biggest challenge GENuS faces in completing its goals?

Our biggest challenge, as with most projects working at the global level, is dealing with inaccurate or incomplete data. An ongoing project in the field of global and planetary health, including with GDD, is the collection and validation of high-quality data to continue to support informed research and decision-making.


How does or will GDD fit into GENuS’s impact?

GDD is able to add the dimension of demographic data to GENuS, contributing the crucial information of how different age and sex groups are able to meet their dietary and nutritional needs. This incredibly useful insight allows us to zoom into each country and find the vulnerable subpopulations who are highest risk to the types of dietary changes that may be in store.


What directions or results do you hope to see in the field of global nutrition research in the future?

As the world undergoes changes at an rapid pace, I hope to see global nutrition research focused on how major dietary shifts that are already underway could imperil nutrition and health, particularly for countries that are already vulnerable. It seems likely that the intersecting trends of accelerating population growth, increasingly scarce global resources, and ongoing exploitation of natural systems will provide roadblocks to the goal of providing adequate food and nutrition for everyone. Monitoring how that story continues to unfold will continue to be the important work of researchers worldwide.


Many thanks to Matt Smith for participating in this quarter's Meet Our Partners. We invite you to visit GENuS's website for more information.