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The IDEFICS cohort: design, characteristics and participation in the baseline survey



The European IDEFICS (Identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants) study was set up to determine the aetiology of overweight, obesity and related disorders in children, and to develop and evaluate a tailored primary prevention programme.


This paper focuses on the aetiological element of the multicentre study, the measures and examinations, sociodemographic characteristics of the study sample and proportions of participation.


Prospective cohort study with an embedded intervention study that started with a baseline survey in eight countries in 2007–2008.

Subjects and measurements:

Baseline participants of the prospective cohort study were 16 224 children aged 2–9 years. Parents reported sociodemographic, behavioural, medical, nutritional and other lifestyle data for their children and families. Examinations of children included anthropometry, blood pressure, fitness, accelerometry, DNA from saliva and physiological markers in blood and urine. The built environment, sensory taste perception and other mechanisms of children's food choices and consumer behaviour were studied in subgroups.


Between 1507 and 2567, children with a mean age of 6.0 years and an even sex distribution were recruited from each country. Of them, 82% lived in two-parent families. The distribution of standardised income levels differed by study sample, with low-income groups being strongly represented in Cyprus, Italy and Germany. At least one 24-h dietary recall was obtained for two-thirds of the children. Blood pressure and anthropometry were assessed in more than 90%. A 3-day accelerometry was performed in 46%, motor fitness was assessed in 41%, cardiorespiratory fitness in 35% and 11% participated in taste perception tests. The proportion of children donating venous blood, urine and saliva was 57, 86 and 88%, respectively.


The IDEFICS cohort provides valuable data to investigate the interplay of social, environmental, genetic, physiological and behavioural factors in the development of major diet- and lifestyle-related disorders affecting children at present.

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This study was conducted as part of the IDEFICS study ( We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the European Community within the Sixth RTD Framework Programme Contract no. 016181 (FOOD) and the grant support from EU for the IDEFICS study. We are grateful for the support provided by school boards, headmasters and communities. We thank the IDEFICS children and their parents for participating in this extensive examination. LI and LR have received grant support from European Union for the IDEFICS study.

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Correspondence to W Ahrens.

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Statement of ethics

We certify that all applicable institutional and governmental regulations pertaining to the ethical use of human volunteers were followed during this research. Approval by the appropriate ethical committees was obtained by each of the eight centres engaged in the fieldwork. Participants were not subjected to any study procedure before both the children and their parents gave their consent for examinations, collection of samples, subsequent analysis and storage of personal data and collected samples. The participating children and their parents could consent to single components of the study while refraining from others.

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Ahrens, W., Bammann, K., Siani, A. et al. The IDEFICS cohort: design, characteristics and participation in the baseline survey. Int J Obes 35 (Suppl 1), S3–S15 (2011).

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  • childhood morbidity
  • children
  • European
  • prospective cohort study
  • risk factors

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