Project results: The role of early dietary habits in infant gut immunity and disease risk

Maternal and infant dietary habits have major long-term health implications for children. Some of these clinical consequences are obesity and allergy, but various metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders have also been linked with gestational and early-life dietary patterns. It is presently unclear through which molecular and cellular mechanisms dietary metabolites and toxic contaminants exactly affect health.

Over the past 4 years (2018 – 2022) the project earlyFOOD (Long-term impact of gestation an early-life dietary habits on infant gut immunity and disease risk) has studied the impact of maternal and infant dietary habit on gut microbiota composition and host immunity in birth cohorts of mother child couples collected in multiple European countries. The project consortium brought together researchers from several countries, namely France, The Netherlands, Spain and Italy covering a wide range of expertise including immunology, host microbiome interactions, systems biology, allergy and respiratory diseases, multi-omics, human and environmental risk assessment and epidemiology. The project was cofunded by the European Commission within the HDHL-INTIMIC cofunded call


The overall aim of the earlyFOOD study was to assess the impact of dietary metabolites and toxic contaminants on neonatal colonization, gut microbiota composition and host immunity in birth cohorts of mother child couples. In this respect, the project aimed to exhaustively analyze the long-term health impact on children exposed to antibodies, metabolites and toxins found in breast milk and dietary products. To attain these goals, meconium (a baby’s first stool) samples from formula- versus breastfed children were analysed.


The project found an important association between microbial colonization in early life, immunity to microbiota and later health outcome. The meconium from breastfed infants tended to favor colonization by an E. coli dominated microbiota and this was associated with healthy clinical outcome. The project identified predictive biomarkers and early-life preventive strategies for the growing epidemic of human allergic pathologies.

Biomonitoring and food monitoring studies are necessary to control the presence of pollutants in children's food and raise awareness among competent inspection authorities. The results of the project may also be leveraged to develop targeted interventions aimed at promoting health and preventing disease, such as pre- and probiotic dietary intervention. The identified dietary influences on key biological and clinical parameters, could pave the way for new mechanistic studies and guide political decision making. The project team expects that the advances may have important impact on public health and generate socio-economic benefits.

In total, 11 projects were funded within the HDHL-INTIMIC cofunded call. All results will be shared of our website. Stay tuned! See ‘more information’ below for already published project results. 

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