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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



How many mothers know that what they eat during pregnancy and what they feed their babies might influence their children's health and capabilities as adults? Recent data indicate that the connection between perinatal nutrition and adult health is significant and measurable. In one study, improved early nutrition and infant weight led to a sharp reduction in adult diastolic blood pressure and the attendant risks of heart disease and stroke. It also doubled the beneficial effect of non-pharmacological means of reducing blood pressure, for example weight loss, salt restriction or exercise. In another study, male pre-term babies fed enriched formula for just one month had a 13-point advantage in verbal IQ tests seven to eight years later compared with similar babies fed a standard formula. Based on this compelling evidence, the European Union's large Integrated Project EARNEST has gathered a multidisciplinary team of scientists from 16 countries to find ways that public health practice can manipulate foetal and infant nutrition to reduce the prevalence of major adult diseases and to improve infantile development.


In animal studies, and prospective human observational and experimental studies, perinatal nutrition has been shown to determine or 'programme' adult disposition to obesity, diabetes, vascular, bone and immune diseases, and cancer, as well as to affect brain development. However, many questions remain about the health and social impacts of whole diets and individual nutrients in pregnancy and infancy in both healthy and high-risk populations.

The five-year EARNEST project will collect the best possible data from large randomised, controlled human and animal trials, as well as prospective studies to examine the extent to which early nutrition programmes affect long-term adult health. For example, studies will measure how iron, zinc and longchain polyunsaturated fatty acids affect cognitive, neuro-motor and behavioural health. One study will focus on which periods of a child's development are critical to particular health outcomes.


EARNEST will also assess the socioeconomic costs of poor nutrition and analyse consumer knowledge and attitudes about nutritional programming. It will establish the potential of public health interventions to prevent and reverse harmful programming. It will also provide quantitative estimates of how European wealth creation would be enhanced by improved early nutrition.

This will furnish a strong scientific basis for promoting health across the board, helping to correct social inequalities in healthcare, education and economic development. Large animal studies, as opposed to just rats and mice, give EARNEST farm-to-fork significance in terms of its potential to improve meat and dairy production, creating added value for EU competitiveness. The project will team with industry to refine European standards for making and testing infant formula and food products for pregnant mothers.

As the economic burden of adult ill health eases, so should the drain on public healthcare resources. Work capacity should increase, and the number of sick days taken off by workers should decline. In addition to the economic benefits, the quality of life will improve in large population groups. The EARNEST consortium will act as a virtual institute of nutritional programming. This will create a pan-European critical mass of expertise, fostering nutritional standards, influencing education, helping shape EU policy and transferring technology to industry. This will help promote commercial competitiveness and nurture a new generation of internationally respected scientists.

List of Partners

  • University of Munich (Germany)
  • Medical Research Council, Institute of Child Health (UK)
  • University of Pécs (Hungary)
  • Research Institute for the Biology of Farm Animals (Germany)
  • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)
  • University of Granada (Spain)
  • Medical Research Council (UK)
  • Kings College London (UK)
  • Danish Epidemiology Science Centre at Statens Serum Institut (Denmark)
  • Aarhus University (Denmark)
  • Municipal Institute of Medical Research (Spain)
  • Institute of Public Health (Norway)
  • University of Bristol (UK)
  • The Children's Memorial Health Institute (Poland)
  • National Research Centre for Environment and Health (Germany)
  • University Medical Centre Groningen, University of Groningen (The Netherlands)
  • Turku University Central Hospital (Finland)
  • University of Nottingham (UK)
  • Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium)
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium)
  • Rowett Research Institute (UK)
  • University of Cambridge (UK)
  • INSERM (France)
  • National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (The Netherlands)
  • Institute of Physiology (Czech Republic)
  • University Medical Centre, Utrecht (The Netherlands)
  • University of Surrey (UK)
  • Schothorst Feed Research (The Netherlands)
  • Ashwell Associates (UK)
  • Arexis (Sweden)
  • Numico (Germany)
  • Ordesa (Spain)
  • Orafti (Belgium)
  • Universita Rovira I Virgili (Spain)
  • Universita degli Studi di Milano (Italy)
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)
  • University Val d'Hebron (Spain)
  • National Research and Applied Medicine Center 'Mother and Child' (Belarus)
  • Nestlé (Switzerland)
  • Minerva MIN (UK)
Full title:
Early nutrition programming - long-term followup of efficacy and safety trials and integrated epidemiological, genetic, animal, consumer and economic research
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Berthold Koletzko, LMU Muenchen,
EC Scientific Officer:
Isabelle de Froidmont-Görtz,
EU contribution:
€ 13.4M
Integrated Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top