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1.  Towards global benchmarking of food environments and policies to reduce obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases: design and methods for nation-wide surveys 
BMJ Open  2014;4(5):e005339.
Introduction
Unhealthy diets are heavily driven by unhealthy food environments. The International Network for Food and Obesity/non-communicable diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS) has been established to reduce obesity, NCDs and their related inequalities globally. This paper describes the design and methods of the first-ever, comprehensive national survey on the healthiness of food environments and the public and private sector policies influencing them, as a first step towards global monitoring of food environments and policies.
Methods and analysis
A package of 11 substudies has been identified: (1) food composition, labelling and promotion on food packages; (2) food prices, shelf space and placement of foods in different outlets (mainly supermarkets); (3) food provision in schools/early childhood education (ECE) services and outdoor food promotion around schools/ECE services; (4) density of and proximity to food outlets in communities; food promotion to children via (5) television, (6) magazines, (7) sport club sponsorships, and (8) internet and social media; (9) analysis of the impact of trade and investment agreements on food environments; (10) government policies and actions; and (11) private sector actions and practices. For the substudies on food prices, provision, promotion and retail, ‘environmental equity’ indicators have been developed to check progress towards reducing diet-related health inequalities. Indicators for these modules will be assessed by tertiles of area deprivation index or school deciles. International ‘best practice benchmarks’ will be identified, against which to compare progress of countries on improving the healthiness of their food environments and policies.
Dissemination
This research is highly original due to the very ‘upstream’ approach being taken and its direct policy relevance. The detailed protocols will be offered to and adapted for countries of varying size and income in order to establish INFORMAS globally as a new monitoring initiative to reduce obesity and diet-related NCDs.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005339
PMCID: PMC4025455  PMID: 24833697
monitoring; food policy; global health; non-communicable diseases; obesity
2.  Creating healthy food environments through global benchmarking of government nutrition policies and food industry practices 
Unhealthy processed food products are increasingly dominating over healthy foods, making food and nutrition environments unhealthier. Development and implementation of strong government healthy food policies is currently being circumvented in many countries by powerful food industry lobbying. In order to increase accountability of both governments and the private sector for their actions, and improve the healthiness of food environments, INFORMAS (the International Network for Food and Obesity/non-communicable diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support) has recently been founded to systematically and comprehensively monitor food environments and policies in countries of varying size and income. This will enable INFORMAS to rank both governments and private sector companies globally according to their actions on food environments. Identification of those countries which have the healthiest food and nutrition policies and using them as international benchmarks against which national progress towards best practice can be assessed, should support reductions in global obesity and diet-related NCDs.
doi:10.1186/2049-3258-72-7
PMCID: PMC3974193  PMID: 24594359
3.  Neonatal Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone Concentrations in Belgium: A Useful Indicator for Detecting Mild Iodine Deficiency? 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47770.
It has been proposed that neonatal thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) concentrations are a good indicator of iodine deficiency in the population. A frequency of neonatal TSH concentrations above 5 mU/L below 3% has been proposed as the threshold indicating iodine sufficiency. The objective of the present study was to evaluate feasibility and usefulness of nation-wide neonatal TSH concentration screening results to assess iodine status in Belgium. All newborns born in Belgium during the period 2009–2011 (n = 377713) were included in the study, except those suffering from congenital hypothyroidism and premature neonates. The frequency of neonatal TSH concentrations above 5 mU/L from 2009 to 2011 in Belgium fluctuated between 2.6 and 3.3% in the centres using the same TSH assay. There was a significant inverse association between neonatal TSH level and birth weight. The longer the duration between birth and screening, the lower the TSH level. Neonatal TSH levels were significantly lower in winter than in spring or autumn and significantly lower in spring and summer than in autumn while significantly higher in spring compared to summer. In conclusion, despite that pregnant women in Belgium are mildly iodine deficient, the frequency of neonatal TSH concentrations above 5 mU/L was very low, suggesting that the neonatal TSH threshold proposed for detecting iodine deficiency needs to be re-evaluated. Although neonatal TSH is useful to detect severe iodine deficiency, it should not be recommended presently for the evaluation of iodine status in mildly iodine deficient regions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047770
PMCID: PMC3480419  PMID: 23112844
4.  High Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency in Pregnant Women: A National Cross-Sectional Survey 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43868.
An increasing number of studies suggest that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is associated with multiple adverse health outcomes in mothers, neonates and children. There are no representative country data available on vitamin D status of pregnant women in Europe. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among Belgian pregnant women and to assess the determinants of vitamin D status in the first and third trimester of pregnancy. The women were selected via a multi-stage proportionate-to-size sampling design. Blood samples were collected and a questionnaire was completed face-to-face. 55 obstetric clinics were randomly selected and 1311 pregnant women participated in the study. The median serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25-(OH)D] concentration was significantly lower in the first trimester (20.4 ng/ml) than in third trimester (22.7 ng/ml). Of all women, 74.1% (95%CI = 71.8–76.5%) were vitamin D insufficient (25-(OH)D <30 ng/ml), 44.6% (95%CI = 41.9–47.3%) were vitamin D deficient (25-(OH)D <20 ng/ml), while 12.1% (95%CI = 10.3–13.8%) were severely vitamin D deficient (25-(OH)D <10 ng/ml). Of all women included, 62.0% reported taking vitamin D-containing multivitamins, of which only 24.2% started taking those before pregnancy. The risk of vitamin D deficiency (25-(OH)D <20 ng/ml) was significantly higher for less educated women and women who reported not going on holidays to sunny climates. The risk of severe vitamin D deficiency (25-(OH)D <10 ng/ml) decreased for women who reported alcohol consumption during pregnancy, decreased with more frequent use of sunscreen lotion and increased for smokers and women who reported preference for shadow. In conclusion, vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent among pregnant women in Belgium and this raises concerns about the health consequences for the mother and the offspring. A targeted screening strategy to detect and treat women at high risk of severe vitamin D deficiency is needed in Belgium and in Europe.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043868
PMCID: PMC3427250  PMID: 22937114
5.  Sodium reduction and the correction of iodine intake in Belgium: Policy options 
Archives of Public Health  2012;70(1):10.
Many studies suggest that high salt intakes are related to high blood pressure and consequently cardiovascular diseases. In addition salt intake was found to be related with obesity, renal stones, osteoporosis and stomach cancer. Belgium, such as other European countries, is suffering from both salt intakes that are twice as high as the recommended intakes and mild iodine deficiency. No comprehensive strategy encompassing both public health problems has been developed. While specific salt reduction targets for processed foods are still under discussion using a consensus approach with industry, an agreement was signed between the bakery sector and the Ministry of Health in April 2009, to encourage and increase the use of iodised salt in the production of bread. Based on results of recent surveys on population iodine status it is advised not to currently revise iodine concentrations in salt in bread but to advocate for a higher percentage of bakers using iodised salt and to install a good monitoring system to control the percentage of bakers effectively using adequately iodised salt. With regard to salt reduction, it is of utmost importance that all companies contribute and harmonise the salt content of their products according to the lowest possible thresholds in a first step. In order to achieve this goal, it will be necessary, in addition to the consensus approach, to come up with at least some legislative tools such as a salt tax or mandatory labelling of foods exceeding a specific sodium concentration. Once salt reduction targets have been clearly defined in Belgium over the longer term, a legal framework should be set in place where iodine concentration in salt for the production of bread and household salt is strictly regulated by law, to avoid a large variability in the iodine content of salt brands consumed. In conclusion, it is possible to tackle salt reduction and iodine deficiency at the same time on the condition that the approach is coordinated and well monitored. All the interventions and measures taken should clearly include education and communication directed towards consumers, food producers, public health professionals, pharmacists, healthcare workers, and media representatives.
doi:10.1186/0778-7367-70-10
PMCID: PMC3461451  PMID: 22958752
Sodium; Iodine; Belgium
6.  Repeated 24-hour recalls versus dietary records for estimating nutrient intakes in a national food consumption survey  
Food & Nutrition Research  2011;55:10.3402/fnr.v55i0.7307.
Background
The methodology used in the first Belgian food consumption survey followed to a large extent the instructions of the European Food Consumption (EFCOSUM) reports, where repeated 24-hour recalls (24HR) using EPIC-SOFT were recommended.
Objectives
To evaluate the relative validity of two non-consecutive 24HR using EPIC-SOFT by comparison with 5-day estimated dietary records (EDR). To assess misreporting in energy for both methods by comparing energy intake with energy expenditure from accelerometery in a subsample.
Design
A total of 175 subjects (aged 15 and over) were recruited to participate in the study. Repeated 24HR were performed with an interval of 2–8 weeks. After completion of the second interview, subjects were instructed to keep an EDR. Dietary intakes were adjusted for within-person variability to reflect usual intakes. A Student's t-test was calculated to assess differences between both methods. Spearman and Kappa correlation coefficients were used to investigate agreement.
Results
In total, 127 subjects completed the required repeated 24HR, as well as the five record days. From 76 participants, accelerometer data were available. In both methods, about 35% of participants had ratios of Energy Intake/Total Energy Expenditure (EI/TEE) above or below 95% confidence intervals for EI/TEE, suggesting misreporting of energy. Significant differences between the two dietary intake methods were found for total energy, total fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, alcohol, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin and iron. In general, intakes from 24HR were higher compared to EDR. Correlation coefficients for all nutrients ranged from 0.16 for thiamine to 0.70 for water.
Conclusions
The results from this study show that in the context of nutritional surveillance, duplicate 24HR can be used to asses intakes of protein, carbohydrates, starch, sugar, water, potassium and calcium.
doi:10.3402/fnr.v55i0.7307
PMCID: PMC3215303  PMID: 22084625
estimated dietary record; dietary assessment; accelerometry; relative validity
7.  Dietary sources of animal and plant protein intake among Flemish preschool children and the association with socio-economic and lifestyle-related factors 
Nutrition Journal  2011;10:97.
Background
The aims of this study were to assess the intake of animal, plant and food group-specific protein, and to investigate their associations with socio-economic and lifestyle-related factors in Flemish preschoolers.
Methods
Three-day estimated dietary records were collected from 661 preschoolers aged 2.5-6.5 y (338 boys and 323 girls). Multiple linear regression analysis was used to investigate the association between animal, plant, and food group-specific protein intake and socio-economic and lifestyle factors.
Results
Animal proteins (mean 38 g/d) were the main source of total protein (mean 56 g/d), while mean plant protein intake amounted to 18 g/d. The group of meat, poultry, fish and eggs was the main contributor (51%) to animal protein intake, followed by milk and milk products (35%). Bread and cereals (41%) contributed most to the plant protein intake, followed by low-nutritious, energy-dense foods (21%). With higher educated fathers and mothers as reference, respectively, preschoolers with lower secondary and secondary paternal education had lower animal, dairy-, and meat-derived protein intakes, and those with lower secondary and secondary maternal education consumed less plant, and bread and cereal-derived proteins. Compared to children with high physical activity levels, preschoolers with low and moderate physical activity had lower animal and plant protein intakes. Significantly higher potatoes and grains-, and fish- derived proteins were reported for children of smoking mothers and fathers, respectively, compared to those of non-smoking mothers and fathers.
Conclusions
The total protein intake of Flemish preschoolers was sufficient according to the recommendations of the Belgian Superior Health Council. Parental level of education and smoking status might play a role in the sources of children's dietary proteins.
doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-97
PMCID: PMC3191475  PMID: 21943312
plant protein; animal protein; preschool children; socio-economic status; lifestyle-related factors; Flanders
8.  Dietary Sources of Fiber Intake and Its Association with Socio-Economic Factors among Flemish Preschool Children 
The objectives were to assess total dietary fiber intake, identify the major sources of dietary fiber, and examine its association with socio-economic factors among Flemish preschoolers. Three-day estimated dietary records were collected from a representative sample of preschoolers 2.5–6.5 years old (n = 661; 338 boys, 323 girls). The mean dietary fiber intake (13.4 g/d) was lower than the intake level recommended by the Belgian Superior Health Council (70% boys and 81% girls below the guidelines). The most important contributor was the group of bread and cereals (29.5%), followed by fruits (17.8%), potatoes and grains (16.0%), energy-dense, low-nutritious foods (12.4%), and vegetables (11.8%). Multiple linear regression analyses showed that total fiber intake was associated with maternal education and parents’ employment. Overall, fiber intakes from high-nutritious foods (vegetables and fruits) were higher in preschoolers of higher educated mothers and those with one or both parents being employed. In conclusion, the majority of the preschoolers had dietary fiber intakes below the recommended level. Hence, dietary fiber should be promoted among parents of preschoolers and low socio-economic status families should be addressed in particular.
doi:10.3390/ijms12031836
PMCID: PMC3111636  PMID: 21673925
dietary fiber intake; preschool children; socio-economic status; Belgium
9.  Fluoride Intake through Consumption of Tap Water and Bottled Water in Belgium 
There is a tendency to align higher levels of fluoride in natural mineral water with the existing higher levels in tap water. Treatment of natural mineral waters could harm the preservation of their natural character. In this study fluoride intake through bottled and tap water consumption in the Belgian adult population was assessed, taking into account regional differences. A deterministic approach was used whereby consumption quantities of tap water and different brands of bottled water were linked with their respective fluoride concentrations. Data from the national food consumption survey (2004) were used and the Nusser methodology was applied to obtain usual intake estimates.
Mean intake of fluoride through total water consumption in Flanders was 1.4±0.7 mg/day (97.5th percentile: 3.1 mg/day), while in the Walloon region it was on average 0.9±0.6 mg/day (97.5th percentile: 2.4 mg/day). The probability of exceeding the UL of 7 mg per day via a normal diet was estimated to be low. Consequently, there is no need to revise the existing norms, but higher fluoride concentrations should be more clearly indicated on the labels. Reliable data about total dietary fluoride intake in children, including intake of fluoride via tooth paste and food supplements, are needed.
doi:10.3390/ijerph6051676
PMCID: PMC2697936  PMID: 19543414
fluoride; exposure assessment; food consumption survey; Belgium

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