The Department of Child Nutrition investigates the interaction of different influences on early predisposition to health risks. These include the development of obesity and nutrition-related diseases as well as children’s eating behaviour from birth to the age of 18. In many overweight and obese children and young people risk factors already play an important role during pregnancy and early childhood. Investigating them and the resulting preventive measures will be a focus of the Department of Child Nutrition.
Overfeeding a foetus in the womb caused by a mother’s obesity and/or an excessive increase in weight during pregnancy with concomitant metabolic disorders like gestational diabetes have a major impact on the development of a child’s cells and organs in the first phases of life. The increased and, potentially, qualitatively unbalanced, provision of nutrients in the womb leads to maladaptation in the foetus with a predisposition to a higher risk of obesity. This means children have greater “susceptibility” to developing more serious symptoms of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at an earlier stage in life than if they receive healthy nutrition in the womb.
The Department of Child Nutrition pursues an approach that concentrates on various phases of life to develop age-dependent preventive strategies. To this end, existing and future scientific knowledge must be systematically collated and evaluated. But new studies will also be needed, for example on the implications of future parents’ “fitness” prior to conception for the health of their children and/or on improving the metabolic situation during pregnancy. Questions will need to be answered on “sensitive” phases and “vulnerable” pregnant women – with an increased risk of changes during pregnancy – as well as on the fundamental metabolic processes and mechanisms of foetal predisposition in order to develop nutrition concepts based on the knowledge acquired. Close cooperation is planned with the National Breastfeeding Commission, which was integrated in the Max Rubner-Institut this year.
In order to optimise measures to promote breastfeeding, strategies are being elaborated for national breastfeeding and nutrition monitoring. Relevant factors influencing feeding styles in infancy and the interaction between parents and child as well as the nutritional and eating behaviour of schoolchildren and young people will be the focus. This will include developing strategies for communicating nutrition-related topics on social media and evaluating the Guidelines on Child Nutrition (DGE) in kindergartens and schools.