IDEFICS - Identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants

15 March 2012

The modern life style has drastically changed in Europe during the last decades as reflected in alterations of infant behaviour, unhealthy dietary habits, and low physical activity. Diet appears to play a part in the development of overweight, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders.

To stop the epidemic of diet- and lifestyle-induced morbidity in European children, IDEFICS enhanced the knowledge of the health effects of a changing diet and an altered social environment of infants. It developed, implemented and validated specific intervention approaches, focusing on the age group of 2 to 10 years.

The study was designed to run for five years and was funded by the European Commission (DG Research). 24 renowned research institutes and small and medium-sized enterprises located in 10 different EU-countries were participating in the IDEFICS-Study, which began in September 2006.

Surveys helped to assess the prevalence of overweight, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes (type II), scoliosis and related risk factors. This formed the basis for the investigation of the effects of diet, lifestyle, psychological, biochemical and genetic factors and their interaction in the development of overweight, obesity and other developmental disorders. Promotion and prevention modules were implemented and evaluated in kindergartens and schools in eight European countries in order to develop efficient evidence-based approaches.

The Integrated Project (IP) identified a risk profile inventory for children susceptible to the named disorders and their co-morbidity and devised tailored prevention strategies that were effective, easy to implement and that accounted for the needs of different social groups. Genetic and non-genetic factors, psychosocial background and social settings were considered simultaneously in the research. Population-based studies investigated the impact of sensory perception and provided results concerning short and long-term effects of food choices. Children’s consumer behaviour, its determinants and its relation to overweight and obesity, were also assessed. The IP considered societies' use of information on individual risk factors as well as on individuals' rights and responsibilities. The ethical implications of a "right not to know" of genetic factors and the use of individual data were addressed. Other ethical aspects raised by the research of IDEFICS, in particular in relation to social class and gender, were part of the investigation process. The IP provided a knowledge-based set of guidelines on dietary, behavioural and lifestyle activities for health promotion and disease prevention in children for scientists, health professionals, policy makers, and consumers in Europe.

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