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Healthy weight and healthy teeth for children

MetaHealth is a large research consortium with fundamental and applied research partners both from public and private organizations. The program includes 19 PhD projects and several research projects by post-docs.

In 2022, the consortium received 10 million euro grant from NWO for the years 2023 to 2030 within the Dutch National Research Agenda Research along Routes by Consortia (NWA-ORC) call. Of the total budget, 1 million euro is contributed by the co-funding partners either via in kind or in cash contribution.

Health in a microbial, sociocultural and care context in the first 1000 days of life.

  1. to enhance the inclusivity of less-privileged families in health-outcomes-centred research.
  2. to understand the interplay between microbiome, lifestyle, culture and environment and their role on oral and metabolic health during the first 1000 days of life in a culturally and socially diverse population.
  3. to provide fundamental knowledge on the establishment of a healthy microbiome and on processes that enhance or diminish a beneficial host-microbiome symbiosis;
  4. to create and evaluate acceptable interventions that contribute to maintenance of metabolic and oral health with special focus on families from low socio-economic position (SEP), leading towards minimizing the health-disparities gap;
  5. to create in vitro and in silico models of the host and microbiome interplay in a sociocultural and care context;
  6. to develop e-health platform for all stakeholders on the maintenance of oral and metabolic health during the first 1000 days of life.

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Our Work Packages

Steering committee

Consortium partners

More about MetaHealth

Societal problem

Overweight and dental caries are two highly prevalent, but also co-occurring health conditions in preschool children growing up in families of a low socioeconomic position (SEP), which sets them on a path to poor overall health and social disadvantage later in life.


High consumption of sugar-containing beverages and foods is associated with both overweight and dental caries in children. Nevertheless, current approaches that are targeting overweight do not consider oral health of these children. As a result, most health interventions are developed in isolation from one another, leading to duplication of efforts, inefficient use of resources and even worse, conflicting messages. Currently there is a need for knowledge on parental and care professional’s experiences, knowledge, practices and needs regarding health of young children. There is lack of integration of oral health professionals in the youth health care, as well as lack of governmental policy for promoting oral and metabolic health in children. For this, knowledge of the best strategies for empowerment of all stakeholders is required.

Unfavorable health-related behaviors, such as high sugar-containing food intake, in families at a low SEP are only partly explaining the large socioeconomic disparities in oral and general health. Instead, an interplay of multiple aspects, including material, psychosocial, behavioral and biological factors is thought to be responsible for inequalities in health. However, currently there is no such multidisciplinary data available that would allow weighing the role of each of these factors and providing useful tools for successful targeted interventions at various system levels to prevent obesity and oral diseases in children.

Furthermore, our society is less inclusive for people at low SEP. This is also reflected in (health) research, where people of low SEP are often underrepresented. As a result, knowledge on best strategies to prevent diseases often does not include the perspectives and needs of families living in vulnerable conditions. With ‘families living in vulnerable conditions’ we refer to families with compromising living circumstances (for example, those at a low SEP and / or with a migrant background) that pose risks to the oral and metabolic health of their children. Currently, there is a lack of knowledge on the methodology for engagement and empowerment of such families.

Standard preventative strategies for overweight include combined dietary and physical activity interventions. However, for 0–5-year-olds these interventions have shown only short term and minor effects. There is increasing evidence that simple energy balance is inadequate to account for obesity, and other factors, including biological mechanisms such as the microbiome, may impact obesity outcomes. The causal role of microbiome however is not proven yet.

The human microbiome is shaped by an interplay of factors, including genetic background, immune system, culture, economics, behavior and environment. It is acquired and developed in the first years of life and is thought to play a critical role in the immune, endocrine, metabolic and other developmental pathways of the child. There is increasing evidence that pregnancy and the first years of life – generally termed as the first 1000 days – are of utmost importance for the health throughout the lifespan of the individual. However, the knowledge on this important period in life and understanding of the interplay of factors involved, including the development of microbiome and its contribution to the oral and metabolic health of a child in a sociocultural and care context is largely absent.

Societal impact

We expect reduced incidence of obesity and oral diseases, particularly for children growing up in families in vulnerable conditions, hence reducing socioeconomic inequalities in health. This will lead to a better well-being and quality of life for children.  At a long term, this will result in reduced health-care costs related to oral and metabolic diseases for children and adults.


The consortium involves the knowledge chain at its entire breadth, from the fundamental (UvA-SILS, UvA-IBED, UvA-FMG, VU, AUMC, ACTA, WUR, UTwente, UPorto) to the applied research (AUAS, Inholland, TNO-Microbiology & Systems Biololgy, TNO-Child Health) and practice (GGD Amsterdam, Municipality of Amsterdam, JTV Amsterdam, NVvK), including public (NIBI, Bètapartners, GGD Amsterdam) and private partners (Onkolyze, Supabase, PANEL).  The consortium members from the practice are also co-funding the program, mostly ‘in kind’.

The disciplines involved cover epidemiology, public health and oral public health, pregnancy, child development and growth, participatory action research, sociology, anthropology, behavioral sciences, complex systems approaches, system dynamics, oral, metabolic health, nutrition and lifestyle, microbiome, molecular biology, microbial ecology and microbiome-host interactions, computational modeling and big data and (persuasive) communication, including modern (e-health) applications.

The interdisciplinarity of the consortium will allow us to address holistically the role of microbial, sociocultural and care context on health in the first 1000 days of life and to co-create targeted and inclusive interventions for maintaining oral and metabolic health.

Scientific objectives

The MetaHealth project (Figure) has the following scientific objectives:

  1. to obtain knowledge and methodology for the engagement and empowerment of families living in vulnerable conditions in health-outcomes-centered research (WP1);
  2. to understand the interplay between microbiome, lifestyle, sociocultural factors and environment and their role on oral and metabolic health during the first 1000 days of life in a culturally and socially diverse population (WP2, WP3);
  3. to explain, using in vitro and in silico models for host-microbiome interactions, how different factors affect the interplay between host and its microbiome (WP3, WP4);
  4. to create and evaluate targeted interventions at various system levels aimed at preventing obesity and oral diseases in the first 1000 days with emphasis on families living in vulnerable conditions, leading towards minimizing the health-disparities gap (WP5);
  5. to develop digital and non-digital communication pathways and services for empowerment of stakeholders and their collaboration at various system levels (WP6).

Figure. Flow-diagram of the project MetaHealth


The program started in January 2023 with the appointment of the Program manager. A Kick-off-meeting was organized in March 2023 for all stakeholders. From April onwards the first PhD students and Postdocs (workpackages 1, 2 and 6) were appointed as was foreseen in the proposal. The steering committee appointed the advisory board. In October 2023va second general meeting for all stakeholders and the first meeting of the advisory board were held. Two project newsletters were shared with all stakeholders

The program runs well in the first half of our second year, 2024. Our activities in brief: The University of Porto and GGD Amsterdam are busy collecting samples. Research within WP1, WP2 and WP6 has started well. The advisory board has advised us about our first NWO-progress report. The sequencing of samples during the program will be done by BaseClear in Leiden. The first samples are being sequenced right now. Our website in English and Dutch is in the air.  We have been recruiting PhD-candidates to start WP3 and WP4 and a post-doc for WP5.

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