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Early nutrition modulates the risk of obesity

LMU Medical Center to lead international study

Munich, 03/21/2012

The LMU Medical Center will be responsible for the coordination of a large-scale international research project that is about to begin. The EarlyNutrition project is designed to identify specific aspects of early nutrition that affect the risk of obesity and associated disorders in later life. It will also help to develop recommendations to guide the design of optimal diets for pregnant women and their offspring, which are expected to have a positive and long-term impact on health. The venture begins with a kick-off meeting to be held in Munich on March 21-23.  The project is financed by the EU, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and private industry. A total of over 11 million euros is being made available, of which 9 million will be provided by the EU.

The international consortium includes established researchers in the field of pre-natal and early childhood nutrition. Small-scale and medium-sized European firms, together with leading commercial companies in the food industry, will also participate actively in the project. Professor Berthold Koletzko of the Dr. von Hauner Children‘s Hospital at LMU will act as Project Coordinator for the multinational research group. As Professor Koletzko explains, “We will investigate factors that act during pregnancy and early childhood to increase the risk of obesity and associated disorders in later life. We will focus our attention on obesity, because there is compelling evidence for an impact of nutrition during pregnancy, lactation and early childhood on long-term health.”

According to the World Health Organization, obesity, adiposity and related conditions are among the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2010, some 43 million children under the age of 5 were overweight, and this figure is rising rapidly. Childhood adiposity significantly increases the risk of chronic disorders, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in later life. “Over the past three decades, the incidence of obesity in the population as a whole, but particularly among children, has increased dramatically. This global epidemic places huge burdens on those immediately affected and their families, as well as imposing significant strains on healthcare systems. There is therefore an urgent need to develop and implement effective and efficient prevention strategies in this area,” Koletzko warns.

Over the course of the Early Nutrition Programming Project (EARNEST), which ended about one year ago, researchers made considerable progress towards this goal. They were able to confirm that elements of early childhood nutrition and lifestyle have a strong and long-lasting impact on health and disease risk in later life. In the new project with the acronym “EarlyNutrition” (“Long-term effects of early nutrition on later health”), the participating researchers will take a closer look at the imprinting mechanisms responsible for the links between early nutrition and adiposity, with a view to designing targeted intervention strategies that subvert them. The investigators hope to define both pre- and post-natal nutritional regimes that contribute effectively to a reduction in the long-term risk of obesity. The results of these studies will then be used to formulate consensus statements to help recommendation development outlining the basic elements of a health-promoting lifestyle. Guidelines of this kind could, for instance, encourage consumers to choose healthy foods and also help to raise the quality of the food products in the shops.

Dr. Brigitte Brands, Project Manager
Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital
Department of Metabolism and Nutrition
Phone: +49 89-5160-2816

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