Project NUTRI-PROTECT - Children and adults nutrition as a protective or health-risk factor

Nutrition can positively or negatively affect health throughout the entire life cycle, and especially during the period of health programming in the early stages of life. A key scientific challenges addressed in the project NUTRI-PROTECT are to investigate the effects of early life nutrition on growth and health of children, to provide epidemiological data on the nutrient intakes in adults, and investigate their relationship with various markers of health. The work programme of this project consists of two pillars:

– nutrition of children, which is a continuation of the research »My-Milk« (»My-Milk-2«),

 – nutrition of adults, which is tightly linked with the national dietary EU Menu study.


Project code:                                L3-8213
Type of the project:                    Small applied project
Duration of the projecr:             2017-2020
Title of the project:                     Children and adults nutrition as a protective or health-risk factor
Co-financed by:                           Slovenican Research Agency (ARRS)
                                                       Ministry of health RS
Participating organisations:     University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical faculty (UL BF)
                                                       University Medical Centre Ljubljana (UKC)
                                                       Nutrition Institute (NUTRIS)
                                                       National Institute of public health (NIJZ)
Project leader:                             prof. Irena Rogelj, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol.
University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical faculty
Prof. Irena Rogelj, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol. – project leader; Sen. Res. Assoc. Bojana Bogovič Matijašić, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol.; Assist. Prof. Andreja Čanžek Majhenič, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol.; Prof. Katarina Košmelj, PhD, B.Sc Math.; Assoc. Prof. Blaž Stres, PhD, B.Sc. Microbiol.; Assist. Prof. Petra Golja, PhD, B.Sc. Biol.; Assist. Tatjana Robič, PhD, B.Sc. Biol., prof. Biol.; Tanja Obermajer, B.Sc. Biol.; Diana Paveljšek, B.Sc. Food Technol. – Early stage researcher; Robert Šket, B.Sc. Microbiol. – Early stage researcher

University Medical Centre Ljubljana

Prof. Rok Orel, PhD., MD; Prof. Nataša Fidler Mis, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol.; Prof. Darja Paro Panjan, PhD, MD; Evgen Benedik, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol.; Assist. Aneta Soltirovska Šalamon, PhD, MD; Assist. Prof. Katja Zaletel, PhD, MD ; Assoc. Prof. Simona Gaberšček, PhD, MD; Petra Kolenc Peitl, PhD, MPharm. ; Adrijana Oblak, spec. med. biochem.; Prof. Joško Osredkar, PhD, MPharm.; Vera Troha Poljančič, laboratory technician; Teja Fabjan, B.Sc. Biotech., Early stage researcher; Kristina Kumer, B.Sc. Biotech., Early stage researcher

Nutrition institute
Prof. Igor Pravst, PhD, B.Sc. Chemistry – leader of Pillar B (adults); Assist. Prof. Anita Kušar, PhD, B.Sc. Agriculture; Assist. Prof. Katja Žmitek, PhD, B.Sc. Chemistry; Krista Milavec, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol.; Maša Hribar, B.Sc. Food Technol.; Živa Lavriša, B.Sc. Food Technol. - Early stage researcher; Nina Zupanič, B.Sc. Biology - Early stage researcher

National Institute of Public Health
Prof. Ivan Eržen, PhD, MD; Urška Blaznik, PhD, B.Sc. Chemistry; Assoc. prof. Cirila Hlastan Ribič, PhD, B.Sc. Food Technol.; Metka Zaletel, B.Sc. Math.; Matej Gregorič, PhD

Why and What will be the topic of our study?


Despite the intensive worldwide research dedicated to the nutrition and faecal microbiota, the studies that follow the link between the early nutrition, initial intestinal microbiota, and development of children over a longer time period are limited. In the period from 2010 to 2013, we conducted a study "My-Milk" in Slovenia. In addition to studying the microbiota and fatty acid composition of breast milk and the initial development of intestinal microbiota of breastfed babies, we also monitored the diet of pregnant women and nursing mothers, the concentration of vitamin D in their serum and the bone mineral density of mothers and their children. We performed anthropometric measurements of children during their first year of age. All children who have completed My-Milk study (N=162) will be invited in the follow-up study “My-Milk-2”. The first step of proposed study will be the evaluation of nutritional status of children including body composition (bone density, % of fat and muscle tissue), health indicators (blood pressure, blood cholesterol, frequency and severity of infections) and fecal microbiota of children who will be 6 – 7 years old in 2017/2018. The obtained data and the results of My-Milk and My-Milk-2 studies will enable the prospective cohort study to be carried out on the effects of early nutrition and the various factors of mother and child during the first year of age on the health and development status of children aged 6- 7 years..


Until now, dietary habits of Slovenian adults were investigated in two studies, performed about 20 and 10 years ago. None of these studies investigated micronutrient intakes. To obtain up-to-date data on nutrient intakes in adults, in 2015 a new national dietary survey - the EU Menu Slovenija (SI.Menu 2017) study was launched. The EU Menu Slovenija study ( will provide data on the consumption of foods and enable the assessment of energy and macronutrient intakes. Within our project the EU Menu Slovenia study will be upgraded with the assessment of blood/urine biomarkers to enable assessment of nutritional status for key micronutrients, such as vitamin D, folic acid, vitamin B12, iodine and iron. The epidemiological data on iodine status and thyroid disorders will be also collected. For more information on NUTRI-PROTECT's B-pillar (i.e., the NUTRIHEALTH survey), please visit the website:

Project objectives

  • O1: To evaluate the nutritional status, health markers and faecal microbiota in children at age of 6-7 years.
  • O2: To investigate the impact of early life exposures on later growth, body composition, nutritional status, health, and faecal microbiota in children aged 6-7 years.
  • O3: Determine nutritional status of adults in Slovenia, with particular focus on women of childbearing age and the increasing population of elderly.
  • O4: To investigate the epidemiology of some diseases in Slovenia related with nutritional status.
  • O5: To support policymakers with evidence needed for future decisions in the area of health and nutrition.

Project execution

To ensure the feasibility of this highly multidisciplinary applicative project, the work programme will be organised in work packages (WPs):
  • WP1: Nutrition and development of children – a prospective study; leader prof. Irena Rogelj, PhD, UL BF/li>
  • WP2: Nutrition and health of adults – a cross-sectional study; leader prof. Igor Pravst, PhD, Nutrition institute
  • WP3: Methodological toolbox; leader prof. Joško Osredkar, PhD, UKC Ljubljana
  • WP4: Data management and statistical analyses; leader prof. Katarina Košmelj, PhD, UL BF
  • WP5: Dissemination and public health implications; leader assoc. prof. Cirila Hlastan Ribič, PhD, NIJZ
  • WP6: Management; leader prof. Irena Rogelj, PhD, UL BF

The research group is interdisciplinary (medicine and epidemiology, public health, nutrition, food chemistry, food technology, biology, statistics) and inter­institutional, assuring the availability and efficient use of resources and equipment. It consists of researchers from 5 research programs, funded by the Slovenian Research Agency (SRA) and three other research projects: ˝My-Milk˝, EU Menu Slovenija (SI.Menu 2017, EFSA) and EUthyroid (HORIZON2020).

The relevance of the project for the science and society

The project results will significantly improve progress in research in the areas of public health and nutrition. The interactions within the axis nutrition in early childhood, gut microbiota composition/diversity and potential health problems in later life are still not fully explored. We expect that results of proposed studies will contribute to the scientific development in this field in global prospective. The acquired information and knowledge will also be an excellent basis for the development of new dietary guidelines for children.

The proposed project will also provide epidemiological data for Slovenian adult population, which are indispensable not only for the creation of appropriate policies, but also for further research, particularly for identification of new links between nutrition, health and the development of non-communicable diseases. In Slovenia currently we actually have no data about the status of micronutrients in the population. The proposed project will for example provide highly necessary information about the current iodine supply, and also about the prevalence of thyroid disorders in Slovenian population. Additionally, the project will provide results about the seasonal changes in vitamin D deficiency in our geographic region. Considering that vitamin D status of mother affects the development of new-born, and also influence the risk for the development of osteoporosis in the latter life, we will particularly focus into women in childbearing age and the elderly population.

The objectives of the project are consistent with the Resolution on the National Programme on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Health 2015-2025 (National Assembly, 15/07/2015), which as a specific objective mentions “Periodic cross-sectional surveys of qualitative and quantitative type, used to monitor the status and trends in the field of nutrition habits and dietary intake of the individual population groups”. Education and training are also listed as priorities. The proposed project will contribute to better realisation of all these areas.

The project’s objectives are also in line with the Slovenian strategic resolution on the development of Slovenian agriculture and the food industry until 2020 “Food for the future”, the WHO recommendations, and the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015-2020 (EU FNAP) which state, that dietary factors are the most important factors that undermine health and wellbeing in every Member State in the European Region. Moreover, it is pointed out that malnutrition, including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity, as well as non-communicable diseases resulting from unhealthy diets have high social and economic costs for individuals, families, communities and governments.