By François-Pierre Martin, Researcher at Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences
The nutrition and lifestyle choices we make when we’re young can have major consequences for our health later in life.
The number of overweight or obese children has reached worrying levels, including in early childhood. In the UK, for example, more than a third of children are overweight or obese. These children are likely to remain obese into their adult life, with a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.
Obesity and type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented through diet and exercise and a healthier lifestyle. Identifying those children at risk of developing these conditions is critical so that we can intervene early with nutritional and lifestyle changes.
A ground-breaking study called EarlyBird was set up to explore the biology of growing children, how metabolic disorders develop in childhood and their consequences in adulthood. I lead the Nestlé team that is involved in this research.
Our research shows that by monitoring children during crucial stages of their development, we can accurately identify those at risk of developing metabolic disorders, better understand how these diseases develop and hopefully, eventually intervene nutritionally to prevent the onset of these conditions.
Each child is unique in terms of personality and everyday needs. Similarly, every child grows and develops differently, with specific metabolic requirements at each stage of their childhood. These differences are still not well understood. Only by understanding these different needs and challenges can we help children lead healthier lives.
Nutrition is key among these needs. Our research is making an important contribution to understanding how to provide the right nutrition at every stage of childhood. It will also help us to develop more personalised nutrition solutions for children with metabolic conditions. These solutions are often the best way to optimise healthy growth.
I bring my commitment and motivation as a parent into the science I do every day to generate a comprehensive view of metabolism and physiology from pre-puberty to adolescence.
With two children of my own, I worry whether they will grow normally to become healthy adults. So I am proud that our work is helping us to better understand these differences, and the opportunities they open up to better understand children’s metabolic and nutritional needs.
Using this knowledge to decipher what is crucial for healthy growth supports Nestlé’s 2030 ambition to help 50 million children lead healthier lives. It’s just one of the ways we at Nestlé are unlocking the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come.
François-Pierre is a researcher in nutrition and metabolism at Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences.Follow François-Pierre on LinkedIn