About the Project
There is evidence that early nutrition may affect later mental performance. The idea that the diet of mothers, infants and children could affect later mental performance has major implications for public health practice and policy development and for our understanding of human biology as well as for food product development, economic progress and future wealth creation. However, much of the evidence to date is from animal, retrospective studies and short term nutritional intervention studies in humans.
NUTRIMENTHE aims to significantly improve knowledge in this area by studying the role, mechanisms, risks and benefits of specific nutrients and food components on the mental performance of children. The age of children addressed by NUTRIMENTHE ranges from foetal stage to childhood, from large, well characterised prospective studies. The nutrients that NUTRIMENTHE is addressing include long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs), minerals (iron and zinc) and B-vitamins as these have previously been indicated as important in mental performance.
Of the nutrients addressed by NUTRIMENTHE, there is a still a lack of clarity and little consensus on their role in neurodevelopment, mental performance and mental illness. NUTRIMENTHE aims to address this especially with respect to LC-PUFAs as their role is much debated in Europe currently.
NUTRIMENTHE will also address key issues in mental health in EU children where diet could play a role for example cognitive development and cognition, anxiety/stress, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder, depression and other related areas
A wealth of information will be generated on food intake which will be linked to biochemical measurements and to mental performance measurements in a large population across Europe. Using this data, NUTRIMENTHE aims to establish positive dietary recommendations for the nutrients addressed, for the European population as a whole.
Two existing epidemiological studies are looking at how a woman's diet while pregnant effects later mental performance in her child.
Generation R is an ongoing study looking at the growth, development and health of children born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands, from foetal life onwards. 10000 children and their parents are taking part. In NUTRIMENTHE, data from pregnant women and their children from the Generation R study is being used to examine the effect of maternal intake of proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants on behavioural and cognitive development at ages 3 and 5.
ALSPAC – the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children
ALSPAC is one of the most important long-term health research project ever undertaken. 14000 pregnant women were recruited during their pregnancies in 1991 and 1992, and the study has followed the health and development of their children ever since. There is now a vast bank of information and biological samples from the children and their families that has become a unique resource used by scientists all over the world for vital research into a wide range of medical and social problems. Data from ALSPAC has shown that higher dietary fish intake of women during pregnancy is associated with improved behaviour in children at the age of 6-7 years (Hibbeln et al 2007). NUTRIMENTHE will see if this relationship is explained by the effects of possible enhanced concentrations of LC-PUFAs in tissues of the foetus and/or the child.
Two existing nutritional intervention studies are looking at the role of pre-natal, post-natal and childhood nutrition in later mental performance.
NUHEAL was sponsored by the EU’s 5th Framework Programme. The project investigated the role of certain nutrients including fatty acids in cardiovascular health and infant development. Children that took part in this study are being follow-up by NUTRIMENTHE to determine whether there are long-term effects on cognitive development and mental performance as a consequence of taking docosahexaneoic acid (DHA) and folic acid supplements during pregnancy.
CHOP – The EU childhood obesity programme
CHOP was sponsored by the EU’s 5th Framework programme and investigated whether feeding infant formula, which differ in their level of milk proteins compared to breast milk, can influence the risk of childhood obesity. Children that took part in this study are being followed-up as part of the NUTRIMENTHE project to assess the role of different protein intake in early life on mental performance at the age of 8.5.
Two new nutritional intervention studies have been set up by NUTRIMENTHE
SIMBA is a nutritional invention study investigating the effects of providing iron, zinc, the vitamins B2, B6, B12, folate and LC-PUFAs on of cognition and behaviour in school aged children.
The PKU study
The PKU study will define a breakpoint of intake levels of LC-PUFAs beyond which a further increase of supply does not provide additional improvements of functional outcome. This is being addressed by a nutritional intervention study on school aged children with an inborn error of amino acid metabolism, phenylketonuria (PKU) as it appears unfeasible to address this question in healthy, omnivorous children. As PKU children must follow a protein restricted diet, blood concentrations of LC-PUFA are reduced. Previous studies have established that neural function of PKU children is improved by high dose supplementation of LC-PUFA which significantly improved visual evoked potential (VEP) latencies (Beblo et al 2001, Agostoni et al 2000) and fine motor skills and coordination (Beblo et al 2007). NUTRIMENTHE aims to establish, for the first time, quantitiative requirement for LC-PUFAs in children.
Two further studies set up by NUTRIMENTHE are looking at consumer attitudues to mental performance and the economic impact of improving mental performance.
This study is looking at how consumers (parents/carers, educators/ teachers and children), perceive that food affects children's attention, sleep, motivation, effort and memory, and how that perception impacts on food choice. The study is taking place in four countries, the UK, Germany, Hungary and Spain. The role of health professionals in providing parents with information about breastfeeding, weaning and infant nutrition as well as influencing their understanding and knowledge of the long term effects on brain development of childhood diets will also be investigated with respect to how the evidence that diet influences later brain health affects the delivery of advice on infant feeding practices.
A comprehensive health economic analysis of pre - and postnatal nutritional interventions with proven or proposed long-term programming effects on mental performance. will be conducted as, currently there is a lack of understanding on the effects of early nutrition on mental performance. Therefore, no firm dietary recommendations can be made based on the evidence available. The economic analysis will take into account the social costs and benefits deriving within the whole human lifecycle and calculate the economic impact for different European Member States.