Mead Johnson Nutrition is involved in a new collaborative scientific project designed to study the effects of early nutrition interventions on metabolic and brain development in infants and young children. This four-year initiative, called BriteN, brings together a team of key academic and technology research partners, including the Donders Institute at Radboud University/UMC, Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Metris, Green Dino and Artinis Medical Systems. The collaboration will focus specifically on the role of nutrition in impacting metabolic syndrome and obesity in young children, and related effects on brain and behavior. Tests will measure the cognitive development of children and their risk of becoming obese, and also assess gender differences.
“Nutrition during the early stages of life is not only important for healthy growth and development, but emerging science shows us that it also impacts health and disease later in life,” said Dr. Ric van Tol, who heads the Global Discovery group at Mead Johnson Nutrition.
Two members of van Tol’s team – Marieke Schoemaker and Gabriele Gross – have been involved in crafting this unique research program that connects early metabolic processes and disturbances, with brain development and cognitive function. But how to best determine adequate nutrition and the most beneficial foods and nutrients during various developmental phases, as well as how to measure their impact? Answers to these questions are necessary to stem the growing problem of metabolic syndrome and obesity in young children.
Metabolic syndrome includes a group of risk factors – such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and abdominal fat – that can lead to vascular and heart disease. According to the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious global health challenges in the 21st century, with estimates that over 42 million children under age 5 are overweight. In addition to other complications, children carrying excess weight often experience a range of impairments in working memory, attention and executive function, including mental flexibility and decision-making.
Some of the latest scientific insights suggest that healthy brain development may be an integral part of healthy weight development in infants and children. In addition, underlying metabolic flexibility supports brain development and cognitive functions. “For decades, we’ve been committed to making DHA available to all children by adding it to our formulas because of its proven benefits for the brain – but our research isn’t stopping there.” said Dirk Hondmann, Chief Scientific Officer at Mead Johnson. “Obesity in children is a crucial area that needs to be addressed today. The BriteN project will help meet this challenge by advancing our understanding of how specific ingredients and diets impact young children’s cognitive and metabolic development.”
There will be multiple components to the BriteN initiative – a model system and biomarker toolkit; a technology platform; gaming, imaging and training; and early life nutritional products. Mead Johnson is proud and excited to be participating in all four work streams, allowing it to engage with cutting-edge technology, and gain new insights into which foods will best impact the healthy development brains and bodies. This research will ultimately translate into innovative products that will benefit children around the world.
The BriteN project is funded by a subsidy of 2 million Euro from the European Fund for Regional Development (EFRO), the Province of Gelderland and a contribution from the Dutch authorities.