Child obesity and early nutrition

Obesity is an excessive body fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. For children under 5 years old, overweight and obesity are defined as being 2 or 3 standard deviations above the median of the WHO growth standards. The incidence of overweight children under 5 years increased from 31 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2016.

The repercussions on health and quality of life are immediate and can have an impact along the whole lifespan. Children affected by obesity have lower educational attainment and more psychosocial problems like poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression. In addition, the likelihood of being obese as an adult is increased, as it is the risk of non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer and musculoskeletal disorders.

Consumption of sweetened beverages, energy-dense diets and inadequate physical activity are determinant in the development of childhood obesity, but complex interactions between the child, the family and the community play also a central role. Young children depend on the food that is made available to them by their caregivers, and they mimic parental behaviours from very young age. In turn, family’s diet and physical activity are influenced by their community; for example, by the availability of healthy food vendors and sport facilities. Because of this, successful interventions to prevent childhood obesity must involve parents, schools and community.

Opportunities for obesity prevention by early life interventions

Early life factors can shape the risk of obesity and other non-communicable diseases. The developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis (DOHaD) postulates that experiences during critical periods of development have consequences on short and long-term health.


Epidemiological studies have established an ‘U’ shape relationship of obesity risk and birth weight, which is a proxy of nutrition during the intrauterine period. Low birth weight can be the result of maternal undernutrition, placental insufficiency, or other factors that limit the nutrients available to the developing foetus. On the other hand, maternal obesity, excessive weight gain during pregnancy or gestational diabetes can result in excessive nutrient transfer and high birth weight.


Besides its numerous benefits for infant and maternal health, breastfeeding has also been associated to decreased risk of obesity. Human milk composition adapts to the specific needs of the growing infant and contains bioactives that contribute to organ maturation and microbial colonization. In addition, breastfeeding may support the self-regulation of food intake.

Complementary feeding period

During the complementary feeding period, children have their first experiences with different foods and textures. Research has shown that food habits established during infancy can track into childhood and adolescence. Repeated exposure to a variety of nutritious foods including fruits and vegetables will maximize the likelihood of consuming them as part of a healthy diet later in life.

Interventions during early life have the potential to prevent childhood obesity. Efforts should be focused on optimizing nutrition and weight gain during pregnancy, early detection and management of gestational diabetes and promotion of breastfeeding. In addition, support must be given to parents to introduce a wide variety of healthy foods and promote regular physical activity.






BINC funding programme 2019 awardees and BINC Team

BINC funding programme 2019: An award ceremony in Geneva

BINC was very proud to bestow 5 scientific research grants to awardees from leading Universities, Hospitals and Academic Institutes (University of Bern, INRA, INSERM, Institut Pasteur and University of Indiana) – for projects that will run for two years. The selected projects will address key BINC scientific areas: microbiota, infant brain development, child nutrition and obesity, women’s health around pregnancy.

2019 the selected research  programmes


Ronchi, F. (University of Bern, Switzerland). The role of microbiota in brain homeostasis during adulthood and early life.

Langella, P. (INRA, France). Exploring perinatal factors on vertical microbiota transmission: modulation of early life gut microbiota to prevent long-term effects.

Infant brain development

Aberts, J. (University of Indiana, U.S.). The mother-offspring microbiome (M-OM) and Neurobehavioural development.

 Women health around pregnancy

Pawluski, J. (INSERM, Rennes). Influence of post-partum depression and probiotic treatment on maternal brain serotonin and caregiving behaviours.

 Child Nutrition and obesity

Eberl, G. (Institut Pasteur, Paris). Intestinal homeostasis in the prevention of pediatric obesity and its consequences on health


BINC Masterclass by professor Ardythe Morrow

Webinar the importance of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in newborn and infant nutrition and health

Join the Webinar on HMOs: The frontier of infant nutrition and health

Learn about the importance of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in newborn and infant nutrition and health with Professor Ardythe Morrow.

Watch the webinar

The Milk Fat Globule Membrane: MFGM

Explore the Milk Fat Globule Membrane: MFGM


Research focus : Maternal health

Influence of postpartum depression and probiotic treatment on maternal brain serotonin and caregiving behaviors 

A Research by Dr. Jodi Pawluski (Rennes, France) and Dr. Joseph Lonstein (Michigan State University, USA)

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a very common, but poorly understood, disorder that negatively affects more than 15% of the millions of recently parturient women worldwide.

One of the key neurotransmitter systems involved in PPD is serotonin. However, little is known about the functioning of the serotonergic system during the peripartum period in the face of PPD or even under healthy postpartum conditions.

Given the growing body of evidence linking gut microbiota to brain chemistry and mental illness, dietary supplements such as probiotics are valuable candidates to improve symptoms of PPD.  Although it has not been well studied with regards to postpartum mental illness, one study already suggests that probiotic treatment may protect against or alleviate symptoms of PPD in women (Slykerman et al., 2017) and it may do so via the amino acid tryptophan and the neurotransmitter serotonin (which derives from tryptophan). Therefore, the goals of our BINC-Geneva funded research are to use pregnancy stress as a laboratory rat model of PPD to understand:

-How probiotic treatment affects the maternal gut-brain axis and postpartum affective behaviors?

-How pregnancy stress and probiotic treatment alter the central serotonergic system during the early postpartum period. We hypothesize that pregnancy stress to model PPD will derail the normative changes in maternal central serotonin system and gut, leading to depressive behaviors and poor maternal caregiving?

We expect that probiotic treatment will protect against this derailment.

The results of this novel research will greatly advance knowledge about the maternal gut-brain axis and have the potential to significantly improve the treatment of millions of women suffering from postpartum mental illness.