Learning Healthy Living: Development of a European intervention strategy

06 August 2007

The IDEFICS study (Identification and prevention of Dietary- and lifestyle-induced health EFfects In Children and infantS) is a recently launched 5-year multi-centre, pan European epidemiological study, funded by the European Commission. Focussing on 2-10 year-old children, it has the challenging objectives of both understanding the multi-factorial origin of childhood overweight and obesity, and of preventing it and its related disorders.

The full long-term consequences of the recent dramatic rise in childhood overweight and obesity across Europe are unknown. However, expert predictions are for an associated rise amongst children and adults in the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome (also called Syndrome X or insulin resistance syndrome, a conjunction of conditions such as abdominal obesity, abnormalities in the blood lipid and /or sugar levels and/or high blood pressure), and associated conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

To slow and revise this increase in conditions related to diet and lifestyle, we need a better understanding of the cause and how culture, socio-economics and lifestyles across Europe impact on body weight, how healthy living can be learned and how behavioural changes can be affected. Solutions are needed which are applicable across Europe but culturally adaptable.

Improving our understanding

The IDEFICS study has two main strands of activities. The first aims to improve knowledge about dietary factors, social environment and lifestyle affecting the health of children in Europe. To do this, major surveys will be conducted on pre-school (2-4yrs) and school (6-8yrs) children in nine centres, at baseline and after 1.5 years of intervention. A third survey will be done for a specific set of variables after 2 years. The surveys will collect huge quantities of information by parent questionnaire and physical examination and measurement of biological markers in the children. A total of 17,000 children is expected to take part in the main surveys with sub-groups providing more detailed data in further studies.

Finding appropriate methods of intervention

The second strand of activities will develop, implement, evaluate and validate specific intervention approaches for reducing the prevalence of diet and lifestyle related diseases and disorders. Standardised but culturally adapted intervention modules will be implemented in eight centres where each intervention area will be compared with a non-intervention area. Multiple approaches will be used, involving diet, physical activity and stress coping, with special focus on vulnerable groups such as lower social classes, single parents and migrants. Starting from the nursery and primary school setting, activities will act on several levels – community, school, household and individual – and all programmes will be thoroughly evaluated for effect, cost and practicality of development, feasibility and acceptance.

Wide ranging expertise

Co-ordination of the project is by the Bremen Institute for Prevention Research and Social Medicine (University of Bremen) in Germany, which has expertise in epidemiology, biometry, public health nutrition and social sciences. Their partners bring a wide range of relevant expertise to the project including psychology, paediatrics, genetics, nutrition, food science and sensory perception, physical activity, bioethics, political philosophy, public health and consumer science.

The expected outcomes

Within five years the project partners are committed to produce useful and practical information to help children achieve a healthy lifestyle and reduce their risk of obesity and associated conditions either in childhood or later in life. This will include:

  • Data on the prevalence of diet and lifestyle related diseases and their key risk factors, presented in a format that enables comparisons across Europe.
  • Information on risk factors and pathways which lead to them, including biomarkers of exposure and effect and genetic factors
  • Knowledge about internal and external triggers of food choices in children
  • Effective culturally sensitive intervention strategies which are easy to implement on a large scale in Europe
  • Nutritional, behavioural and ethical guidelines for policy makers, health professionals and other stakeholders.

Further information : www.ideficsstudy.eu


Identification and prevention of Dietary- and lifestyle-induced health EFfects In Children and infantS (IDEFICS). European Commission Sixth Framework Programme. Contract n° 016181 (FOOD)