Monitoring metabolism across childhood: biomarkers for nutritional health and disease risk management
Growing evidence points towards the critical and long-term involvement of pre-natal, childhood nutrition and lifestyle on later health and disease risk predisposition. Childhood, including the critical period of puberty, is a continuous and highly complex process involving major biological and physiological modifications that lead an individual from infancy towards adulthood. Whilst it is assumed that metabolic and nutritional requirements of infants and adolescents are similar to those of an adult, scientifically sound evidence suggests there is actually a lack of knowledge on how to address these needs in children and adolescents. To solve this, there remains a significant need to better understand the physiological process at the anthropometric, cellular and molecular levels for any given individual. The complexity of biological functional networks behind the growth and the maturation of our body functions highlights the need for their comprehensive analysis. In this, omics technologies can generate a systemic view of childhood on which to develop a better understanding of the changing physiology of growing infants in combination with specific biochemical pathways.
Over recent decades, awareness of the role of nutrition and lifestyle for health and disease risk management has increased, with key emphasis on the prevention of metabolic disorders, including cardiometabolic diseases and type 2 diabetes (1). In parallel, growing evidence has pointed towards the critical and long-term involvement of early nutrition and lifestyle on later health and disease risk predisposition (2). Moreover, childhood obesity is a growing and alarming problem, associated with several short-term and long-term metabolic and cardiovascular complications (3). Thus, it becomes pertinent to look at metabolism, development, and nutritional requirements throughout childhood, to understand the onset of child and adult physiological conditions (4). Therefore, it is essential to build knowledge not only of the physiological and metabolic processes, but also of the effects of specific dietary and lifestyle habits. This will allow us to comprehensively document the biological processes associated with individual health at the different stages of the life cycle, including the critical pubertal physiological window (Figure 1).