The United European Gastroenterology (UEG) report identifies the need for coherent EU and Member State plans and whole society approaches to create environments limiting unhealthy food intake and production.
The report highlights how environmental factors related to diet, such as processed foods is a main factor in determining gut health as research suggests the microbiome may play a causal role in obesity that explains the condition's trans-generational nature.
“With the Western diet mainly consisting of refined sugar, processed foods and trans fats, it causes the gut to inflame which results an alteration in the gut microbiome,” says Dr Lucas Wauters, an investigator of translational research in gastrointestinal disorders at Belgium’s Catholic University Leuven.
“Until now, the majority of research has focused on the faecal microbiome and future studies should include the small intestinal microbiome, which is more relevant for immunity and nutrition.”
Dr Wauters adds the microbiome imbalance can increase the digestive disease risk and reiterated the importance of governments to authorise work that raise public awareness and introduce regulations on front of pack labelling (FOPL) schemes.
Countries that do have food labelling policies employ different schemes and regulations, resulting in a fragmented and inconsistent approach across the continent.
Here, the report advocates the implementation of a simple, informative and uniform FOPL approach could help to educate the public, improve dietary patterns and promote healthy lifestyles.
“We need the European Commission and national governments to act now on initiatives to change the way in which we buy and consume food,” says professor Markus Peck, chair of the United European Gastroenterology (UEG) public affairs committee.
“Our aim should be to achieve a European-wide transformation to healthy diets by 2050. This would require consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to be reduced by more than 50% over the next 30 years.”
1,000 days of life
As well as efforts to determine diets going forwards, the report also stresses the importance of healthy nutrition at infancy and the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.
“Breast milk contains both prebiotics and probiotics, both of which are essential for gut health,” explains professor Gigi Veereman, representative of the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) and member of the UEG public affairs committee.
“Breastfeeding should be encouraged, wherever possible, as research suggests that the non-digestible sugars of breast milk (the human milk oligo saccharides) provide a prime nutritional source for beneficial bacterial fermentation and the prevalence of Bifidobacteria.
“In comparison, infants fed formula milk in the first four weeks of life demonstrate no predominance of Bifidobacteria,” professor Veereman adds. “Food products such as additives, fats and processed foods cause inflammation and plays a role in the management of chronic inflammatory bowel disease.”
Obesity & poor nutrition
The report also highlights the negative effects of overnutrition (obesity and poor nutrition) due to unbalanced diets in the first 1,000 days, that is having the most significant impact upon the health of Europeans.
It goes on to recommend all providers of health and care for children should advocate for healthy diets in mothers, infants and young children in the first 1,000 days.
“Prioritising public policies that ensure the provision of adequate nutrients and healthy eating during this crucial time would ensure that all children have an early foundation for optimal development and long-term health,” the report adds.
“We are born with practically sterile guts, which are then colonised for life with the bacteria from our mothers, that stay with us for life,” points out Berthold Koletzko, professor of paediatrics at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany.
“The first two years of childhood are critical for establishing bacterial colonisation and future gastrointestinal health.
“These early events may be vital in preventing IBD, irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] and other inflammatory conditions, as well as obesity.”