NIH Effort Seeks to Identify Measures of Nutritional Status

Development of nutrition biomarkers would assist researchers, clinicians, and policy makers

The National Institutes of Health has undertaken a new program to discover, develop and distribute measures of nutritional status. The Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development (BOND) Program brings together experts in the field of nutrition to provide advice to researchers, clinicians, program- and policymakers, on the role of food and nutrition in health promotion and disease prevention.

The BOND program seeks to identify nutritional biomarkers—substances that indicate how much of a nutrient a person has eaten and how the body is using that nutrient. Such biomarkers may be used to gauge:

  • how much of the nutrient someone has eaten (nutrient exposure)
  • whether the person is deficient, adequate, or has too much of a nutrient (status)
  • the role a nutrient serves in the body (function)
  • how a person or group responds to a treatment or intervention (effect)

Biomarkers may be direct measures of substances found in the body, such as a protein in the blood, or a substitute measure, such as height or bone density, which indicates a nutrient’s effect. Biomarkers can be used to assess the nutritional status of a person or a population.

The BOND Program is a partnership involving the NIH and support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, European Micronutrient Recommendations Aligned, the Micronutrient Genomics Project and PepsiCo. The BOND Program also involves collaborations with numerous U.S. and global health agencies and private organizations.

"Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining health and preventing disease," said the project officer for the BOND program, Daniel J. Raiten, Ph.D., of the Endocrinology, Nutrition and Growth Branch at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "The BOND program is committed to developing nutritional biomarkers that are accurate and can be used to assess nutrition across a variety of different settings."

The program has two main tracks. One track will provide advice on biomarkers, based on the available scientific evidence. The BOND program will support teams of experts who will review the scientific studies on current nutritional biomarkers. Their reviews will form the basis of advice about the most appropriate biomarkers for assessing particular nutrients. Moreover, their advice will be tailored to the needs of specific users, such as health care workers, researchers, or officials developing programs to correct nutritional problems in a community or nation.This advice will be available on the NICHD’s website, through an interactive database that users can search to find information that best meets their needs.

The other main track will support researchers working to identify additional nutritional biomarkers and how best to use them.

Advice generated from the program will provide useful information to researchers, health care workers, governments, and aid organizations, to assist in diagnosing whether an individual or a population has too little of a given nutrient (a deficiency) or too much (an excess.) The BOND initiative is intended to serve as a resource for the national and international nutrition community.

The initial emphasis of the program is to identify biomarkers of micronutrients—the vitamins and minerals needed in small quantities to ensure normal metabolism, growth and physical well being. Micronutrient deficiencies are common in developing countries, where food is limited, but also affect certain groups in the United States, such as women and adolescents. Reliable measures of micronutrients could provide governments and aid organizations with information on how to target nutritional programs and interventions to those who need them.

"Not everyone in a given population may be deficient in a particular nutrient," said Dr. Raiten. "So providing nutrients to everyone in the population might actually be harmful in some cases, resulting in some people receiving too much of the nutrient."

The initial group of micronutrients that will be covered by the BOND Program include folic acid, iodine, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and zinc. 


About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation.  For more information, visit the Institute’s Web site at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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