International maternal and child nutrition

Micronutrient deficiencies (iron, zinc, vitamin A and iodine) are widespread in low income and emerging countries affecting mortality, morbidity, educability and work productivity. Our aim is to study efficacy of innovative food-based approaches that optimize intake of bioavailable micronutrients and nutrition status of women and children in their first 1,000 days.

Since the establishment of the Division of Human Nutrition and Health, research has contributed to the scientific knowledge base concerning (micro)nutrient status of mothers and their children and ways to improve these in low and middle income countries. Currently, the focus of research is on assessing efficacy of approaches like dietary diversity and (bio)fortification to increase micronutrient intake and status. Bioavailability of micronutrients from foods and ways to improve this are studied. Outcome measures also comprise acceptability of approaches and effects on functional outcomes like gut integrity and cognitive development. Heterogeneity of response to interventions due to biological (e.g. gene-micronutrient interactions), environmental (e.g. agriculture) and behavioural (e.g. food choice) factors are investigated, including development and testing of (early) indicators.

Research topics

Research focuses on delivering proof-of-principle evidence of  the efficacy of innovative food-based approaches with focus on preventing micronutrient deficiencies among (young) women and children in developing and emerging countries. Opportunities are sought within the food supply chain from production through processing to consumption to improve intake of bioavailable micronutrients for better growth and development.
Approaches studied comprise (agro)-biofortification, fortification, post-harvest processing and dietary diversification both for staple foods (such as rice, cassava, beans), but also traditional/indigenous foods (such as fonio, amaranth grains) as well as novel foods (such as insect-based foods) or novel approaches (such as fortification of drinking water).
Primary outcomes are related to dietary intake, (micro)nutrient status and growth, but also effects on functional outcomes such as gut permeability, gut microbiome, cognitive development. Bioavailability of the micronutrients ingested is an important topic of research as mainly determines whether consumed micronutrient is used by the body for its physiological functions. New elements will be inclusion of adolescents as a target group; to integrate new technologies (especially epigenetics) in the studies; to link nutrition with agriculture (sustainability), to develop new indicators of undernutrition, and to expand the work on the link between under- and overnutrition (key words: stunted obesity, developmental origins of health and disease).

Current key projects