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Brussels, 28 September 2009

How EU-funded research is addressing the growing problem of overweight children in Europe

On 28 September 2009, the European Commission launched a new Healthy Eating Campaign for children. The campaign will give children across Europe a chance to take part in on-the-spot activities and interactive games promoting a more balanced diet and healthier eating habits. This is one of many European Commission initiatives to address the growing problem of overweight children in Europe. On the research front, the European Commission funds many projects on child nutrition and obesity through the EU's Framework Programme for Research. All these projects involve researchers from different European countries, which contribute to building the European Research Area. This background note provides some examples of EU-funded projects on child nutrition and obesity.

1) Examples of research projects on child nutrition

The following projects have been funded through the Food Programme of the EU's Framework Programme for Research.

PRO CHILDREN - Boosting fruit and vegetable consumption to keep children healthy

The aim of the PRO CHILDREN project was to assess the fruit and vegetable consumption of schoolchildren in 9 European countries and to develop effective strategies to promote adequate consumption. Results from the project showed that the fruit and vegetable consumption of 11-year-old children was below dietary guidelines. The project singled out the availability of fruit and vegetables at home and school, as well as parenting practices, as important factors for this. The 2-year long school-based intervention which included increased fruit and vegetable availability at school along with educational activities proved to be successful. These results contributed to encouraging the Commission to launch the School Fruit Scheme: since 2009, European funds worth €90 million per school year paid for the purchase and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables to European schools.

European Commission (EC) Contribution: € 1.33 million

HEL ENA - Healthier adolescents make healthier adults

It is widely recognised that teenagers across Europe often resist adopting healthy lifestyles and healthy eating habits. This phenomenon jeopardises the future health and life expectancy of this new generation. The EU-supported HELENA project aimed to tackle the problem by supplying verified data on a whole range of adolescent habits, genetic makeup and nutrition. A team of experts from different scientific fields across Europe conducted a survey of a large sample of 13 to 16-year-old boys and girls in ten European cities representing different genetic backgrounds, eating patterns and socio economic status. For the first time, a standard methodology was being used across the whole survey to make the results comparable. The project developed three novel and healthy foods designed to appeal to this age group as well as an education programme on healthy eating and lifestyle.

EC Contribution: € 4. 99 million

IDEFICS - Identifying the causes of childhood weight and obesity disorders, intervening before it is too late

The IDEFICS project is contributing to improving health conditions for children by understanding their food habits and looking for solutions to problems such as weight and obesity disorders. It is examining the connection between diet and environment, and proposes new interventional approaches to reduce the negative impacts of imbalanced food habits on children. Cross-sectional surveys conducted in 9 European countries among children of preschool and school age (between the ages of 2 and 10) will find out about key risk factors for weight and obesity disorders. IDEFICS will produce a standard set of intervention modules to reduce the prevalence of diet-related disorders among children. These intervention modules will be adjustable to suit the characteristics of each country's dietary habits, physical activity and leisure pursuits in which parents and children, as well as teachers, nurses and local authorities all participate.

EC Contribution: € 13 million

EARNEST - Perinatal nutrition influences adult health

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. Based on this compelling evidence, the EU-funded 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. Among other results, the project showed that breastfeeding and infant formula with lower protein content may protect against later obesity.

EC Contribution: €13.4 million

OBELIX - The impact of food contaminants in perinatal nutrition on obesity development

The incidence of childhood obesity has reached ‘epidemic’ proportions globally and there is an urgent need to increase our understanding of the impact of food contaminants on obesity development. The OBELIX project will examine the hypothesis that prenatal exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) in food plays a role in the development of obesity later in life. Among other things, the project will assess prenatal exposure in humans to major classes of EDCs in food identified as potential inducers of obesity (i.e. dioxins, non- and dioxin-like polychlorin­ated biphenyls, brominated flame retardants, phthalates and perfluorinated alkyl acids) using mother-child cohorts from four European regions with different food contaminant exposure patterns.

EC Contribution: € 2.99 million

NUTRIMENTHE - Effect of diet on the mental performance of children

The EU-funded project NUTRIMENTHE will study the role, mechanisms, risks and benefits of specific nutrients and food components to improve the mental performance of children. The project will analyse the long-term effects of pre- and early postnatal diet on children’s mental performance and illness. It will also study the effects of food on mental state and mental performance such as mood, attention, motivation, effort, perception, memory and intelligence and the effects of food on mental illness. A team of leading international scientists (paediatricians, neurospsychologists, psychiatrics) from top academic centres and a leading Food Multinational will be established, providing a critical mass of experts in the effect of diet on children’s mental performance.

EC Contribution: € 5.9 million

2) Examples of research projects on obesity

An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight. More than 5 million of these are obese and this figure is expected to rise by 400,000 every year. The Health Programme of the EU's Framework Programme for Research funds many projects on obesity. Since 2007, already more than €17.6 million have been specifically dedicated to this issue.

TOBI - P reventing and reversing the consequence of obesity

The TOBI project examines specific inflammatory signalling molecules, the so-called adipokines. They are components of an inflammation process in fat tissues and their actions affect a series of physiological and biochemical processes, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis. The key molecules of these processes are being studied in the TOBI project and will then be used to develop new drugs to prevent or even reverse the devastating consequences of obesity.

EC contrib ution: €2.98 million

GIPIO - Developing anti-obesity drugs

The project GIPIO brings together a consortium of 4 leading academic institutions and 2 small and medium sized enterprises. It studies how the reduction of hormones/signals, released or blocked after food intake act as nutrition signals, significantly contribute to the feed-back in food intake, and subsequently to the onset in obesity. The focus of this project is the understanding of the contribution of gastro-intestinal peptides to the onset of obesity. It aims to identify the most relevant hormones or combinations of hormones, and subsequently to develop anti-obesity drugs.

EC contribution: €3.86 million

PREBOBEDIA – New genes target to treat diabetes and obesity

The project PREBOBEDIA aims to understand how a gene called Prep1 controls insulin sensitivity and determines adipogenesis, obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans. The project will identify Prep 1 target genes and establish their potential as targets for novel strategies to treat type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

EC Contribution: 2.4 million

REPROBESITY - New therapeutic agents against complicated obesity

The REPROBESITY project aims to discover novel or improved treatments in the shortest possible timeframe against complicated obesity by reprofiling of existing drugs. One of the objectives of the project is to identify new indications of existing drugs, alone or in combination, with potential anti-obesity efficacy by lowering the fat content and the glucose uptake of abdominal fat cells. This will be accomplished by screening approximately 2.000 known drugs against these fat cells.

EC Contribution: € 5.4 million

See also IP/09/1366

More information on the projects

EU-funded schemes supporting consumption of fruit, vegetables and dairy products in schools:

The EU School Fruit Scheme:

The European School Milk Scheme :


Project website:

Project coordinator: Prof. Knut-Inge Klepp, University of Oslo,

Project Start Date: 01/04/2002. Duration: 48 months

Project Collaborators: University of Oslo (NO), Bilbao City Council (ES), University of Iceland (IS), University of Copenhagen (DK), University of Porto (PT), Vienna University (AT), The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (DK), University of Maastricht (NL), Karolinska Institute (SE), University of Ghent (BE)


Project website :

Project coordinator: Luis A. Moreno, Universidad de Zaragoza ,

Project Start Date: 2003. Duration: 3 years

Project Collaborators: Universidad de Zaragoza (ES), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (ES), Université de Lille 2 (FR), Research Institute of Child Nutrition Dortmund (DE), Harokopio University (GR), Institut Pasteur de Lille (FR), Karolisnka Institutet (SI), Asociacióde Investigación de la Industria Agroalimentaria (ES), Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association (UK), Pécsi Tudományegyetem (HU), University of Creete (GR), Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelms Universität (DE), University of Granada (ES), Institutet för livsmedel och bioteknik (SI), Meurice Recherche & Developpement asbl (BE), Campden & Chorleywood Fodd Development Institute (HU), Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca per gli Alimenti e la Nutrizione (IT), Univeristy of Napoli (IT), Ghent University (BE), University of Vienna (AT), Productos Aditivos (ES), Cederroth International AB (SI), Cerealia R&D (SI), European Food Information Council (BE)


Project website:

Project coordinator: Wolfgang Ahrens, University of Bremen,

Project Start Date: 2004. Duration: 5 years

Project Collaborators: University of Bremen (DE), Ghent University (BE), Research & Education Foundation of Child Health (CY), Université Joseph Fourier (FR), Verein zur Förderung des Technologietransfers an der Hochschule Bremerhaven Sensory Laboratory (DE), University of Glasgow (UK), Lancaster University (UK), University of Pécs (HU), Università Cattolica del Sacro Core (IT), National Research Council (IT), National Cancer Institute (IT), University of Milan (IT), University of Zaragoza (ES), University Illes Balears (ES), Göteborg University (SI), European Food Information Council (BE), Laboratoriumsmedizin Dortmund, Eberhard & Partner (DE), BioTel (UK), Agorà Med (IT), National Institute for Health Development (EE), Copenhagen Business school (DK)


Project website:

Project coordinator: Berthold Koletzko, LMU Muenchen,

Project Start Date: 2005. Duration: 5 years

Project Collaborators: University of Munich (DE), Medical Research Council, Institute of Child Health (UK), University of Pécs (HU), University of Granada (ES), Medical Research Council, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK), Kings College London (UK), Danish Epidemiology Science Centre (DK), University of Aarhus (DK), Municipal Institute of Medical Research (ES), Institute of Public Health (NO) University of Bristol (UK), The Children's Memorial Health Institute (PL), National Research Centre for Environment and Health (DE), University Medical Centre Groningen (NL) Turku University Central Hospital (FI), University of Nottingham (UK), Université Catholique de Louvain (BE), University of Leuven (BE), Rowett Research Institute (UK) University of Cambridge Research (UK), Institute for the Biology of Farm Animals (DE) Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (FR), Inserm (FR), National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (NL), Institute of Physiology (CZ), University Medical Centre (NL), University of Surrey (UK), Schothorst Feed Research (NL), Ashwell Associates (UK), Biovitrum AB (SI), NUMICO (DE), Ordesa R+D (ES), BENEO (DE), University Rovira i Virgili (ES), University Degli Studi di Milano (IT) Université Libre de Bruxelles (BE), University Val d'Hebron (ES), National Research and Applied Medicine Centre 'Mother and Child' (Belarus), Nestlé S.A. (CH) Minerva (UK)


Project website:

Project coordinator: Cristina Campoy, Universidad de Granada,

Project Start Date: 2008. Duration: 5 years

Project Collaborators: Universidad de Granada (ES), Neuron Biopharma (ES), Institut für Marktforschung Strategie und Planung (DE), Market Biosciences Corporation (USA), Instytut Pomnik Centrum Zdrowia Dziecka (PL), Warszawski Uniwersytet Medyczny (PL), Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen (DE), Pecsi Tudomanyegyetem (HU), Birmingham Childrens Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (UK), SHS International LTD ( UK), Fundaci ó n Publica Marques de Valdecilla (ES), Ludwig-Maximilians Universität Muenchen (DE), Erasmus Universitair Medisch Centrum Rotterdamerasmus (NL), Unilever Research and Development (NL), Université Libre de Bruxelles (BE), Universidad Rovira I Virgili (ES), Universita degli studi di Milano (IT), University of Bristol (UK), University of Surrey (UK), Beta Technology Ltd (UK)


Project website:

Project coordinator: Juliette Legler, Vereniging voor Christelijk Hoger Onderwisj Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek en Patientenzorg,

Project Start Date: 2009. Duration: 3 years

Project Collaborators: Vereniging voor Christelijk Hoger Onderwisj Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek en Patientenzorg (NL), Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (NL), Stichting Ecobaby (NL), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (FR), Nasjonalt Folkehelseinstitutt (NO), Slovenska Zdravotnicka Univerzita v Bratislave (SK)


Project website:

Project coordinator: Thomas Stulnig, Medical University of Vienna,

Project start: January 2008. Duration: 36 months

Project collaborators: Medical University of Vienna (AT), biolution GmbH (DE), Universität zu Köln (DE), Università politecnica dele marche (IT), Genfit SA (FR), Pharm-analyt (AT), University of Durham (UK), Institut Pasteur de Lille (FR), The University of Edinburgh (UK), Universität Graz (AT)


Project website:

Project coordinator: Annette G. Beck-Sickinger , University of Leipzig

Project start: October 2008. Duration: 48 months

Project collaborators: University of Leipzig (DE), Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf e. V. (DE), King's College London , Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases (UK), 7TM Pharma A/S (DK), University of Copenhagen (DK), PolyPeptides Laboratories A/S (DK)


Project website :

Project coordinator: Prof. Francesco Blasi, IFOM, The FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology Foundation


Project start: January 2008. Duration: 36 months

Project collaborators: IFOM, The FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology Foundation (IT), Deutsches Institut fuer Ernahrungsforschung (DE), University of Kuopio (FI), Univ. degli Studi di Napoli (IT), Congenia Srl (IT)


Project website:

Project coordinator: Dr. Fernando Rodriguez de Fonseca, IMABIS Foundation,

Project start: December 2008. Duration: 36 months

Project collaborators: IMABIS Foundation (ES), Vivia Biotech (ES), INSERM (FR), Mainz University (DE), Universitat di Bologna (IT), University of Santiago de Compostela (ES)

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