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"Investigating the determinants of food choice, lifestyle and health in European children, adolescents & their parents."

The EC funded I.Family Study will investigate the determinants of food choice, lifestyle and health in European children, adolescents and their parents and report on these issues, helping to identify the reasons why young people in Europe eat the way they do and how this influences lifelong health.

The project’s acronym – I.Family – highlights the project’s focus on both the influences on the individual and on their family. I.Family will re-assess families as their children move into adolescence, identifying those families that have adopted a healthy approach to food, eating habits and lifestyle choice and those that have not.

The focus will be on the family environment, socio-behavioural and genetic factors. Groups with contrasting dietary profiles will be studied, looking at measures of brain activity, the relation of genes to food choice, biological and genetic basis for taste thresholds, sleep patterns, sedentary time, physical activity and impact of their local built environment.

The project will help to understand the biological, behavioural, social and environmental factors that drive dietary behaviour as children journey towards adulthood. It will thus be of interest to policy-makers and healthcare professionals that are keen to ensure how best to support families to achieve healthier lifestyles.

It draws on a wide range of scientific disciplines to build an integrated picture of the overall study area, with 9 different work packages including overall project management and cascade/communications, covering:
• Epidemiology – causes, distribution and control of disease in populations
• Assessment of dietary behaviours
• Biological and neurobehavioral susceptibility factors
• Physical activity and the built environment
• The family and its environment
• Consumer health behaviour and environmental factors
• Consumer awareness, ethical acceptability and policy

I.Family is building on data collected from over 10,000 children under 10 years of age in the IDEFICS study as they move into adolescence. Running for 5 years from March 2012, I.Family will take research on dietary behaviour to the next level, providing insight into the most important influences on Europe’s young people, their lifestyle behaviours and their eating habits as they move into adolescence. I.Family will re-assess children and their families in a survey starting March 2013 running for one year. In Sweden the municipalities Partille, Alingsås and Mölndal are involved.

Press release November 2012

Does the family play a key role in helping 'tweens' maintain a healthy weight?

The EC funded I.Family research study working across 8 European countries and building on the IDEFICS cohort of more than 16,000 children is investigating this question.

The EC funded IDEFICS study has shown that children under the age of 10 who regularly eat in a family unit, have fun within a structured home environment, and have a sense of well-being reduce their risk of becoming overweight or obese by 50%.

These significant findings from the EC funded IDEFICS Study concerning the importance of family life are reported today (18 October 2012) at the European Childhood Obesity Group (ECOG) Congress in Palma de Majorca.

But does this continue once children enter the ‘tween’ years - neither a child nor yet a teenager - a period when more external influences come into play? This is one of the key questions being followed up in the I.Family study.

Iris Pigeot, Deputy Co-ordinator of both IDEFICS and I.Family (Professor of Biometry and Epidemiological Methods at BIPS – Institute for Epidemiology and Prevention Research, Bremen, Germany) says today at ECOG: “Children below the age of 10 remaining engaged with family life, particularly eating as a family unit, and with a sense of well-being reduce their risk of becoming overweight and obese by 50%. Their experience of a supportive and warm family environment is also key to maintaining a healthy weight.”

“This striking and significant effect is confirmed in our IDEFICS data based on a cohort of 16,000 children across 8 European countries.”

“What we will do now in the I. Family study tracking that IDEFICS cohort,” continues Pigeot, “is to see how far the role of the supportive family continues to have this significant effect as children become ‘tweens’, whether this role is taken over by a child’s peer group, or whether other factors such as built environment have an increased impact.”

“The IDEFICS study demonstrated clearly that a chiId’s emotional well-being, their self-esteem, relationships within the family unit and social contacts are key elements to maintaining a healthy weight. I.Family will attempt to determine how far the role of the family unit is one of the critical factors - or indeed the critical factor - in supporting European ’Tweens’ to combat obesity.”

Notes for Editors:

1. The I.Family Study is an EC funded project under Framework 7 of the KBBE programme running from March 2012 to February 2017. It has 17 partners, working across 11 countries and with cohorts in 8 European countries - Germany, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain and Belgium.

2. The study has two strategic objectives:
(1) to understand the interplay between barriers against and drivers towards healthy food choice
(2) develop and disseminate strategies to induce changes that promote healthy dietary behaviour in European consumers especially adolescents and their parents

3. The I.Family Study is re-assessing the families first engaged with the IDEFICS study when children were below 10 years of age now that they move into adolescence - the ‘tween’ years - identifying those families that have adopted a healthy approach to food and eating habits and those that have not. I. Family is adopting a holistic approach by also investigating the biological, behavioural, social and environmental factors that drive dietary behaviour as children journey towards adulthood.

Press release September 2012

The ‘TWEENS’ Tribe - Who are they and why are they important to the I.Family Study?

‘Tweens’ boys and girls aged 10 to 12 - no longer ‘kids’ but not yet teenagers - face many challenges during this transition time. Increasing independence and exposure to behaviours outside family control, approaching puberty and changing educational demands make this an exciting yet demanding time, not only for the ‘Tweens’ themselves but also for their families.

During this transition time there is potential for established healthy lifestyle and dietary habits to be set aside and to be overtaken by habits that may limit healthy life expectancy. Alternatively, ‘Tweens’ increasing development of individuality and independence can see them adopt ‘healthier’ habits than before.

Changes in these habits may be driven by peer pressure, exposure to issues and information in school, or by the direct marketing efforts via TV, mobiles and internet of food, music and other retailers who target this age group specifically as they have money to spend.

This is why a major focus of the EC funded I.Family project and its 15 research teams in 11 countries across Europe is on this age group, often neglected in research studies and analysis.

‘Tweens’ make up the largest group of individuals that will be studied by I.Family, building as it does on the family cohort developed by the IDEFICS research programme when children were aged 10 or under.

I.Family will re-assess these children and their families – identifying families and individuals that have adopted and maintained a healthy lifestyle and approach to food, eating habits and lifestyles and those that have not. Family, environment, social, behavioural and genetic factors will all be examined and drawn together to identify reasons behind the adoption of healthy and unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits.

The overall aim is to help not only policy-makers shape advice and support that is of practical benefit to professionals, but also to families who may be helped to establish ground rules that will lead to the enjoyment of a longer, healthier life.

For further Media Information: Rhonda 44(0)7887-714957; Marc 44(0)7921-689026

Notes for Editors:

1. Available for interview - Project Co-ordinator Wolfgang Ahrens, University of Bremen and
Lucia Reisch, lead on Consumer behaviour & environmental influences, Copenhagen Business School.
Contact Rhonda Smith of Minerva on 44(0)1264-326427 44(0)7887-714957 to arrange.

2. Running for 5 years from March 2012, the I.Family Study is funded by the European Commission and co-ordinated by BIPS – Institute for Epidemiology and Prevention Research GmbH, Germany and University of Bremen, Germany (UNIHB) under the leadership of Wolfgang Ahrens and Iris Pigeot together with Dr Alfonso Siani of the Institute of Food Sciences, National Research Council, Italy. Contract Number FP7 266044 (KBBE 2010-4).
The project’s website – www.ifamilystudy.eu – has now gone live and journalists and other interested parties are encouraged to visit the site for further information and sign up to keep in touch with the project over the next 5 years. You can also follow the project on Twitter at @IFamilyStudy and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/IFamilyStudy

3. Characteristics of the I.Family Study
A unique cross-European cohort
I.Family is generating a cross-European child cohort unique in both scale and depth of information. Building on the earlier IDEFICS study, I.Family will gather detailed longitudinal and developmental data (from early childhood to adolescence, i.e. from 2 to 15 years of age) on children and their families, including key biomarkers and genetic data. With a baseline size of 16,000, the cohort offers sufficient statistical power to investigate associations and – because of its longitudinal element – to investigate causal relations as well. The study has a huge comparative potential owing to its geographical spread across eight European countries (Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Hungary, Estonia, Germany, Belgium, Sweden) – the resulting heterogeneity of lifestyles and diets allowing for more robust causal inferences. Finally, the cohort will also assess the sustainability of a primary prevention programme addressing overweight and obesity which was initiated as part of the IDEFICS study.

I.Family focuses on ‘tweens’
I.Family examines the transition from childhood to teenage years – a time when children are becoming more independent of family influences, but are still heavily dependent on the immediate family. By tracking children’s development across these transition years, and by examining the family environment in depth – including siblings as well as parents – I.Family will be able to study exactly how the family continues to influence children’s health and health-related behaviours as they grow up, and the way in which teenagers become more independent.

A comprehensive view of health-related factors and health outcomes
I.Family integrates the study of actual dietary behaviour with other health-related behaviours (for example, physical activity) and other factors influencing these behaviours (for example, psychological traits, taste preferences, genetic markers, family and school influences, and neighbourhood environments). By gathering information about children’s current health, and drawing on the detailed information we already have about the children in their early years, we will be able to investigate the pathways to different health outcomes (for example, obesity and metabolic disorders) and their precursors in children as they grow up. By its longitudinal design the study will help to identify early prognostic markers of later health outcomes to guide novel avenues for prevention.

Unique methodological aspects

I.Family uses several distinctive methods for such a large cohort of children drawn from the general population. It will gather uniquely comprehensive information on physical activity, by combining accelerometer data on physical activity levels with GPS tracking and objective measures of the built environment. This will allow the study to reveal how the environment influences children’s activity and behaviours. I.Family will also measure sensory taste perception, genetic and environmental determinants of taste preferences, their impact on food choice and how these change as children grow up. Not least, differences in brain activation during (un)healthy food choice will be measured by functional neuro-imaging in children and their parents selected on the basis of their actual eating behaviour.

Looking at contrasting groups of children in detail
In a smaller sample, I.Family will investigate more closely two contrasting groups of children and their families to see how and why children’s dietary and health-related behaviours change over time. The study will look closely at children who have improved in these respects, and at children whose habits became less healthy during the observation period. By this means, we hope to assess barriers to healthier behaviours as well as to determine which factors are most important in supporting healthier behaviour. Looking at the family and its environment will give a wider view of social influences, enabling us to formulate policy directions that can really improve diet and health.

Press release March 2012

You are what you eat and the way that you eat it! Investigate and report.

The EC-funded project I.Family will do just that, helping to identify the reasons why young people in Europe eat the way they do and how this influences lifelong health.

Why do young people in Europe eat the way they do? What are the reasons behind their eating habits and choice of foods?

Many factors are at play. Family time and influence are challenged by modern independent lifestyles. Processed foods, drinks and snacks are readily available. Marketing and peer pressures, accompanied by screen-based distractions that can replace physical activity, all play their part, under-pinned by learnt taste preferences and genetic predispositions.

Building on data gained from over 10,000 children in the IDEFICS study, the EC funded project I.Family will provide further insight into the most important influences on Europe’s young people, their lifestyle behaviour and their eating habits. I.Family will do this by re-assessing families as their children move into adolescence, identifying those families that have adopted a healthy approach to food and eating habits and those who have not. The project will help us understand the biological, behavioural, social and environmental factors that drive dietary behaviour as children journey towards adulthood.

With nutrition-related diseases causing a loss of over 56 million years of healthy life of European citizens as reported in 2000, policy-makers and healthcare professionals need to be sure how they can best support families to achieve healthier lifestyles. Families and individuals themselves will also benefit from the clarity provided by I.Family’s results, helping them to establish the ground rules that will lead to enjoyment of a longer healthier life.

Reference: Food and Health in Europe: a new basis for action, WHO, Regional Publications: European series 96: p.7


Gabriele Eiben, 46 31-786 6846

Page Manager: Katarina Englund|Last update: 3/17/2015

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