Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Determining factors and critical periods in food habit formation and breaking in early childhood: a multidisciplinary approach (Consumers)

Project acronym: HabEat

Title of project: Determining factors and critical periods in food habit formation and breaking in early childhood: a multidisciplinary approach

Research area: Consumers

Contract No: 245012

EU contribution: €2 998 799

Start date: January 2010

Duration: 48 months

Status: ongoing

Studies so far have shown the importance of the early years in later food preferences and eating behaviour. It is therefore important to assess strategies to modify preferences. In order to increase the chance that children, later in childhood and even in adulthood, will have an adequate diet, early learning mechanisms need to be better understood in order to provide parents and caregivers information about how children learn to accept foods and to eat the appropriate quantity of food. In this context, HabEat aims to enable a better understanding of how food preferences and eating habits are formed and can also be changed in infants and young children. While vegetables appear beneficial for health, it is well known that many adults as well as many children are not consuming enough vegetables. Thus, it was decided that a particular attention will be paid on the factors that are related to acceptance and consumption of vegetables.

HabEat has brought together 11 European partners from 6 European countries with a multidisciplinary approach (psychology, epidemiology, behavioural science, nutrition, sensory science), to enable a key breakthrough in the understanding of how food habits are formed (and can also be changed) in infants and young children.

This will be done by combining epidemiologic studies based on existing human cohorts from four countries and experimental work carried out in six countries so as to collaboratively identify:

  • the critical periods in the formation/breaking of food habits;
  • the key learning mechanisms, their relative impact in the short, mid and long term, and their importance according to the different critical periods;
  • the most effective strategies for breaking habits, i.e. for changing from poor to healthy habits;
  • individual reactions to the learning mechanisms and individual susceptibility to changes.

This research will help to increase understanding of the critical ages and periods when food habits and eating patterns form in infants and children, and to support effective intervention strategies for habit-breaking and behavioural change directed towards healthier food choices.

HabEat will work hand-in-hand with a board of stakeholder advisors (including industry, health professionals) to produce guidelines on the recommendations that should be communicated to childcare professionals and parents from different target groups (especially those most at risk) in the EU. By 2013, the results from the HabEat project should lead to recommendations in parental practices for feeding infants and children. These recommendations will be addressed to early childhood professionals, paediatricians, and political decision-makers in charge of defining nutritional policies, as well as to the baby food industry.

Website of project:

Coordinator: Sylvie Issanchou,

Organisation: INRA Institut national de la recherche agronomique, France,