Increasing evidence from lifetime experimental studies in animals and observational and experimental studies in human subjects suggests that pre- and postnatal nutrition programme long-term health. However, key unanswered questions remain on the extent of early-life programming in contemporary European populations, relevant nutritional exposures, critical time periods, mechanisms and the effectiveness of interventions to prevent or reverse programming effects. The EARly Nutrition programming – long-term Efficacy and Safety Trials and integrated epidemiological, genetic, animal, consumer and economic research (EARNEST) consortium brings together a multi-disciplinary team of scientists from European research institutions in an integrated programme of work that includes experimental studies in human subjects, modern prospective observational studies and mechanistic animal work including physiological studies, cell-culture models and molecular techniques. Theme 1 tests early nutritional programming of disease in human subjects, measuring disease markers in childhood and early adulthood in nineteen randomised controlled trials of nutritional interventions in pregnancy and infancy. Theme 2 examines associations between early nutrition and later outcomes in large modern European population-based prospective studies, with detailed measures of diet in pregnancy and early life. Theme 3 uses animal, cellular and molecular techniques to study lifetime effects of early nutrition. Biomedical studies are complemented by studies of the social and economic importance of programming (themes 4 and 5), and themes encouraging integration, communication, training and wealth creation. The project aims to: help formulate policies on the composition and testing of infant foods; improve the nutritional value of infant formulas; identify interventions to prevent and reverse adverse early nutritional programming. In addition, it has the potential to develop new products through industrial partnerships, generate information on the social and economic cost of programming in Europe and help maintain Europe's lead in this critical area of research.
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