Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are a major and increasing contributor to morbidity and mortality in developed and developing countries. Much of the chronic disease burden is preventable through modification of lifestyle behaviours, and increased attention is being focused on identifying and implementing effective preventative health strategies. Nutrition has been identified as a major modifiable determinant of NCD. The recent merging of health economics and nutritional sciences to form the nascent discipline of nutrition economics aims to assess the impact of diet on health and disease prevention, and to evaluate options for changing dietary choices, while incorporating an understanding of the immediate impacts and downstream consequences. In short, nutrition economics allows for generation of policy-relevant evidence, and as such the discipline is a crucial partner in achieving better population nutritional status and improvements in public health and wellness. The objective of the present paper is to summarise presentations made at a satellite symposium held during the 11th European Nutrition Conference, 28 October 2011, where the role of nutrition and its potential to reduce the public health burden through alleviating undernutrition and nutrition deficiencies, promoting better-quality diets and incorporating a role for functional foods were discussed.