Author: Hayley Every

STOP MetSyn Pilot Study

Would you like to get healthier, fitter and feel more energetic?

Knowing what to eat and being physically more active can be challenging.

The Food4Health project STOP MetSyn has designed a program that uses your biological data to help you build healthy habits! You have the freedom to choose your own goals, focussing on healthy eating and physical activity. You will also work with a coach who will support you in setting achievable goals and reaching them!

This program was created to help people become healthier and prevent serious illnesses, such as Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome is a collection of conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Having Metabolic Syndrome can increase the risk of developing other serious diseases, such as heart disease and stroke. About 25% of adults have Metabolic Syndrome, and many are unaware that they are at risk. This program helps you to reduce the potential risk of Metabolic Syndrome. You will learn to create healthy, long-lasting habits related to nutrition and lifestyle!

We are looking for participants to take part in a pilot study. By participating, you will help test the program and advance scientific knowledge about preventing lifestyle-related diseases. This research is conducted by the STOP MetSyn project team. It is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Food4Health Initiative.

For the pilot study, we are using an app-based lifestyle intervention program. It provides meal plans and lifestyle tips and tricks to help you develop healthier habits. The program requires a commitment for four months to ensure the best possible health outcomes. At the beginning and end of the study, you will be asked to have a blood test and measure your waist circumference and blood pressure. Each month during the study, you will speak with a health coach to see how you progress towards your goals. By choosing to join the program and supporting our research, participating in the study will be completely free of charge for you.

To participate in the study, you need to meet the following requirements:

  • You are between 25 and 55 years old
  • You are living in Flanders and speak Dutch/Flemish
  • You own a smartphone to install the app
  • You have NOT been diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome or Type 2 Diabetes
  • You are NOT following a specific diet
  • You are NOT pregnant or planning a pregnancy in the next six months
  • You are NOT undergoing treatment for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high levels of blood sugar

We are starting to recruit participants in June 2021, so if you or someone you know someone will benefit from the program, send a message to hayley.every@eithealth.eu, and we will let you know how you can take part!

Preventing Metabolic Syndrome

Online survey with 200 adults on healthy living

Metabolic syndrome (MetSyn) represents a clustering of conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and diabetes. MetSyn is present in approximately 25% of all adults with increased prevalence in advanced ages. What is commonly unknown is that having MetSyn increases the risk of developing other serious diseases, such as heart disease and stroke. Many people exhibit the risk factors but are not even aware of their condition. This undiagnosed (pre-disease) state could be reversed through changes in diet and lifestyle, thus preventing MetSyn and reducing this major health threat to European citizens.

The STOP MetSyn project, an innovation project running within Food4Health, aims at developing an intervention programme that allows for diagnosis, interventions, and monitoring to prevent Metabolic Syndrome. The programme combines baseline measurements of health status, goal setting and meal/exercise plans, interaction with a health coach, and challenges.

In an online survey using the platform Ipsos with a panel of 200 adult citizens based in Germany, the co-creation activity aimed at gaining insights to be used to verify the target group and their needs the programme is aiming at in the pilot study. Here is an overview of the 200 participants that took part in the survey including information on household size, number of children living in the household, and the region where they are living in.

The Food4Health approach leads to richer knowledge

Interview with Veerle Poppe, Colruyt

Colruyt Group believes that retailers can also play an important role in helping consumers make healthy choices. As the instigator of the EIT Food4Health project STOP MetSyn, we spoke with Veerle Poppe, Sustainability Strategist and EIT Lead at Colruyt, to hear why they decided to join the Food4Health programme.

“The notion of big opportunities on the borders between EIT Food and EIT Health immediately resonated within Colruyt. This goes especially for prevention. Food4Health breaks through the traditional lines to enable revolutionary products”, Sustainability Strategist and EIT Lead Colruyt Veerle Poppe comments. At the beginning of 2021, the company will launch a solution that helps to prevent and reverse the pre-metabolic syndrome in the high-risk target group.

Colruyt is the market-leading food retailer in Belgium, with a long track record on healthy choices. Poppe: “We don’t shy away from leading our customers towards healthier choices. Using AI and big data on products and customer preferences, we initiated the SmartWithFood app. It helps customers to transfer a recipe into a fitting shopping list. This means, that when we know a customer doesn’t like garlic, has a gluten allergy and a low sugar preference, recipes will be automatically translated to the right product choices for him or her, such as gluten-free flour and sugar alternatives.”

Disease prevention

The SmartWithFood app enables customers who are already aware of the health consequences of food choices to easily shop wisely. The Food4Health project STOP MetSyn takes prevention a major step further. STOP MetSyn is short for Sustainable Tackling Of Pre-METabolic SYNdrome. Poppe elaborates: “Twenty percent of people in the twenty to sixty age category runs a high risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise lead to high blood pressure and/or high blood sugar, excessive waist fat, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol. We try to seduce this target group into a healthier lifestyle to prevent disease.”

This is far from easy. It not only relates to the realm of retail through shopping choices. It also involves life beyond the supermarket, as it considers exercise and general behavioural changes. “We need corporate and knowledge partners to address all relevant aspects in a holistic approach: marketeers, medical specialists and behavioural scientists”, says Poppe. As a long time EIT Food member and Food4Health core team member, Colruyt decided to also join EIT Health eighteen months ago to extend its network. That was around the time STOP MetSyn started in 2019 with a literature review. The programme will result in a solution that can be tested on the market in 2021.

Speed of progress

The specific Food4Health set-up, that started with ten partners, brought Colruyt into contact with several surprise partners. Poppe: “Potential partners are picked from a pool of two hundred high-quality parties, pre-selected by independent reviewers. This ensures that the ten selected partners are the best professional fit for the programme.”

Working with ten partners also proves to be a lot of handling, Poppe learned. “A programme adjustment suggestion would be, to bring this number slightly down and to enlarge the work packages. It helped though, to be open about expected deliverables from the outset. One must take into account that companies and universities aim for different deliverables. For us it is the product, for academia, it is PhD-studies and papers. Once that is clear to all, parties can find a modus operandi that takes all interests into account.”

An aspect beyond the reach of Food4Health itself is budget (in)security. “The budget for the programme should at least be secured for 2 or 3 years, preferably longer”, Poppe finds.

Amazing drive and enthusiasm within the Food4Health programme

Interview with Artem Khlebnikov, Danone Nutricia Research

Danone Nutricia Research have been a driving force in innovation in nutrition for cancer patients and were the initiators of the EIT Food4Health project, MuscleCancer. To understand why Danone is participating in the Food4Health programme, we spoke to Artem Khlebnikov, Strategic Partnerships Director at Danone.

Danone is committed to the Food4Health idea to organise innovation differently. And although the company braced for surprises along the way, so far these have only been positive. Partner skills and enthusiasm, as well as innovation speed, exceed expectations.

“We were searching for the right spot within EIT programmes”, says Artem Khlebnikov PhD, Strategic Partnerships Director at Danone. “Our motto is ‘bringing health through food to as many people as possible’. EIT Health is mainly focused on cure and in EIT Food prevention isn’t mainstream either.”

Danone was therefore in for the idea of Food4Health from the beginning in March 2019. “It offered exactly the right mix to us. What is more, the process went ahead with warp speed. The project proposal about the benefit of the right nutrients and physical exercise for muscle mass preservation in cancer patients was ready in April. The project outline with built-in flexibility followed in May. It was very well structured, each step coming with clearly defined deliverables. A call for participation in the projects came in the beginning of June. By the end of July, partners were selected, so that the actual work could start in September.”

Far from trivial

Parties agreed upon a top-down, targeted and directed approach, whereby Danone had an instrumental role in crafting the project. Khlebnikov explains: “Not ‘anything goes’ as long as rather vague guidelines are respected, but instant alignment on concrete goals and deliverables. After massive initial investments in clinical cancer nutrition, we now see real opportunities for markets and patients.”

These are not solely Danone’s goals and deliverables but shared by all partners through collaborative efforts. Khlebnikov: “We are in the field of nutrition intervention, but physical exercise is equally important to solve the real-world problem of better preparing cancer patients for treatment and speed up recovery.”

It is a far from trivial challenge. Combining nutrition and exercise is not standard practice in today’s cancer treatment. “We aim to change the standard of care”, Khlebnikov states. “This makes it a high risk, high gain project. Physicians are aware of the importance of nutrition and muscle mass. But if there is no solution, it’s not in the protocols and KPIs and therefore not on their radar.”

Crystal clear

The project brings the necessary pieces together for a solution. Khlebnikov: “Could we do it alone? Probably, but it would take forever. We hold some pieces about nutrition, other partners hold other pieces regarding physical therapy and digital solutions for dissemination of information. Some pieces are still missing – as is the case with dynamically measuring muscle mass. By combining the pieces, solving the puzzle together, you push the sum of the parts beyond mathematical logic. This makes it a proper open innovation approach.”

Khlebnikov makes the comparison with the formation of crystals: when you have one crystal and the right catalyst, other crystals can form quickly. “Remember it’s innovation rather than research. The most important tasks are connecting dots, bridging gaps, building market mass, and sharing awareness”, he states. “I think this new approach is the future for EU projects.”

Clinical protocol

Khlebnikov knows that a clinical protocol for nutrition and exercise intervention will only be adopted throughout Europe when clinical proof of results will be established. Therefore, hospitals in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Spain participate to do just that. Some have joined in for the nutrition part, others for the physical exercise part. “The best methods for each part have to be selected or combined into a best practice.”

After this, the nutrition and exercise parts will in turn be combined in an integral approach. “So far we have been able to proceed very quickly towards this goal”, so says Khlebnikov. “We have been able to do so despite the inevitable delays caused by Covid 19, thanks to the enthusiasm and the willingness to take calculated risks by participants.”

Timeline discrepancy

Although Khlebnikov is very positive overall, he also has a worry. “We are now entering the phase of clinical trials. Here we engage the difficulty that EIT is based on an annual funding framework that fits awkwardly to transformative change. Clinical partners are only willing to engage in clinical trials when funding for the entire clinical trial period can be guaranteed. This creates the risk of a status quo. This must be solved, or we will fall back to the conventional approach. It is a pivotal issue.”

Engaging consumers in healthy lifestyles

Showcasing Food4Health at events in Germany

Food4Health has had the opportunity to showcase our activities at two events in Germany in 2020. The first event was the Fairtrade Brunch & Market held in Eching in September and the second was presenting posters about Food4Health at the Barmer health insurance office in Freising. These events have allowed us to engage with consumers, to raise awareness of the importance of food and lifestyle on one’s health.

Fairtrade Brunch & Market, Eching Germany

On 5 September 2020, EIT Food CLC Central had a stand at the Fairtrade Brunch & Market event in Eching, Germany. Organised by the Eching Adult Education Centre in cooperation with the Eching Economic Development Agency, the event aimed to inform the local population about fair, regional and sustainable products, activities, and organisations. Attendees could interact with local retailers, restaurants, businesses, and institutes. EIT Food presented the Food4Health initiative and especially the two innovation projects – STOP MetSyn and MuscleCancer – to increase the visibility of Food4Health on the local level.  About 350 people attended the event and at least 120 visited the EIT Food stand. It was a great opportunity to establish a dialogue with consumers and raise awareness of the importance of food choices and diet for health and wellbeing.

Food4Health banner at the Eching Fairtrade Brunch & Market

Barmer Health Insurance, Freising Germany

Since the beginning of November 2020, a rather unusual channel was found to introduce the Food4Health projects – STOP MetSyn and MuscleCancer – to the local public. The Barmer health insurance office in Freising gave Food4Health the opportunity to present posters of STOP MetSyn and MuscleCancer, to be shown in their showcase windows. Even though we are not directly interacting with the people, it is a great chance to increase the visibility of Food4Health. The posters aim to inform the general public about the links between food and health. They can be read by the people who are just passing by but especially those waiting in front of the windows, as only one person can enter the premises at a time due to COVID-19. Inside the insurance office in the entrance area, there is a roll-up banner about Food4Health and leaflets that can be taken home. The posters will be on display until early 2021.

Food4Health banner at the Barmer Health Insurance office in Freising
STOP MetSyn poster in the showcase window of the Barmer Health Insurance office in Freising

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EIT Food is a network of industry, academic and research partners, set up to transfer our food system. By connecting consumers with businesses, start-ups researchers and students from around Europe, EIT Food supports innovative initiatives that improve our health, our access to quality food and our environment.


EIT Health is a network of best-in-class health innovators backed by the EU. We deliver solutions to enable European citizens to live longer, healthier lives by promoting innovation. We connect the right people to work on societal challenges across European borders so that innovation can happen at the intersection of research, education and business.