Members of the European Parliament called for more emphasis on child health in the new generation of EU research and health programmes in Brussels today. Arguing that child health is largely overlooked in Europe’s current research programme, participants agreed that Europe must invest more into this area. Speaking at a round table in the European Parliament, Member of Parliament Angelika Niebler said it was astonishing to see that both the European Commission and the Member States had apparently forgotten to include an area of key concern for citizens when political priorities were defined. Experts for child health and politicians came together to call on the European Commission and member states give more attention to the health of the youngest part of Europe’s population. The round table was organised by Dr Niebler in partnership with the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN).

The meeting aimed to discuss how to strengthen research for improving child health in Europe’s Horizon 2020 programme. The idea for the conference was born after the launch of the new EU research funding programme ‘Horizon 2020’ which, in contrast to its predecessors, has so far not given much attention to the field of paediatric research. Professor Berthold Koletzko, President of ESPGHAN, said “In Europe’s Horizon 2020 Work Programme on Health Research for 2014-2015, only one of 58 research project topics identified by the European Commission mentions children. This is not satisfactory, given that children comprise 20% of Europe’s population and 100% of Europe’s future.”

The most effective prevention: childhood health
Health is a fundamental prerequisite for a child’s development, the full utilisation of its potential and its contribution to society. Europe’s children generally have achieved a good level of health today. But new challenges for children have arisen, with a large impact on the health, well-being and productivity of the population at large. The marked increase of obesity and associated lifelong diseases such as diabetes and fatty liver, high rates of food intolerance and increasing immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease all have their foundations in childhood.
This demographic change facing Europe necessitates more investment in promoting child health. This is a key prerequisite to preventing disease conditions throughout life up to old age, and to keeping people healthy and active for longer. Thus investing in the promotion of child health is a fundamental building block for enhancing European productivity and competitiveness. To build effective prevention, more investment is needed in research on child health, which received emphasis in the previous European Framework Programmes 5, 6 and 7. In contrast, so far children have received little attention in the calls for Europe’s current Horizon 2020 programme.
Dr. Angelika Niebler, MEP stated: „The European Union has already financially supported research on child health. The results were very positive. For example, one European research project proved that child treatment in early years lead to an almost 3fold reduction of obesity at school age. Other EU-founded research demonstrated that food allergy and intolerances as well as chronic inflammatory diseases can be prevented.“

Call for more commitment of policy makers and stakeholders to childhood health
During the meeting it was stressed that the rights and specific interests of children are underrepresented in the EU institutions when it comes to their health and health related research. Unlike most other relevant groups of the population, the number of stakeholders protecting the interests of children is surprisingly limited.

“The new European Commission, with support of the new European Parliament, should address the health of our children through research and policy measures in a way that does justice to the importance of this group and to the future of our society” said Prof. Koletzko.

The European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition is an international scientific society based in Europe. Founded in 1968, the society has over 700 members who are paediatric gastroenterologists, hepatologists and nutritionists, as well as scientists in relevant fields. ESPGHAN also has members who are trainees, nurses and dieticians to ensure that this growing multi-disciplinary approach improves the outcomes for children in Europe.

Press contact:
Christina Simcox/Sarah Fitzpatrick
ESPGHAN office
Phone +44 (1730) 715 230
Brussels, 15 October 2014