Monitoring dietary habits, body weight and activity level for a better nutrition policy
A healthy diet is an important factor for a healthy and long life. For example, there is a direct link between chronic diseases (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease) and our dietary habits (such as excessive intake of saturated fats and sugars). In addition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also cause deficiency diseases (so called as they are caused by a nutrient deficiency), such as osteoporosis, anemia or fatigue.
We investigate Belgian dietary patterns and intake of nutrients, body weight and physical activity level. The latter two are important to measure, since you need more nutrients if you are more active and a large body needs more nutrients to move around. We use these data to monitor the compliance of the population with dietary recommendations, but also to assess the risk of dietary intake of contaminants and additives.
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Food consumption survey in 2004 and 2014
In 2004 and 2014, we studied Belgian dietary patterns with a food consumption survey (FCS). In this food consumption survey, we asked 3,200 people about their nutritional intakes and lifestyles in order to get a detailed picture. You can download the results of both surveys on our Belgian national food consumption survey website. In the 2004 survey, adults and seniors were surveyed, while in 2014 attention was focused on children, teenagers and adults. Their dietary habits, nutrient intake, but also body weight and activity levels were studied.
Checking whether the population is complying with dietary recommendations to improve policy
In Belgium, the National Food Consumption Survey 2014-2015 presents a recent and representative picture of food consumption in the Belgian population. On the other hand, the not-for-profit organization Nubel systematically provides information on the nutritional value of foods (i.e. the proportion of nutrients in a foodstuff) that occur in a normal Belgian diet. By combining the actual nutritional consumption with the nutritional value of each foodstuff, we can monitor the actual intake of nutrients by the population. In this way, we can assess whether the population is complying with the dietary recommendations.
These results can be used by the government to develop a nutrition policy, such as for example the salt reduction program Stop the Salt to limit the population’s excessive salt intake. It also offers the possibility of prioritizing more concrete food enrichment in case of shortages, such as the use of iodized salt in baker’s bread.
Monitoring whether the Convention for a Balanced Diet achieves its goal
In the Convention for a Balanced Diet (2016), food companies, retailers, restaurant chains, catering companies and the government aim to reduce the calorie intake by 5% between 2012 and 2016/2017, for example by reducing the sugar and/or fat content of food products. The Belgian national food consumption survey and the Nubel database are suitable for monitoring and evaluating the results of this convention.
Intake of contaminants and additives
In addition to nutrients, food can also contain additives and contaminants. We calculate the risk associated with the intake of such substances in the Belgian population. These research results will enable the government to review the legislation. Even in the context of a crisis (e.g.”dioxins in food”), this research will make it possible to quickly assess the risk to the population.