My father’s job was to maintain fruit orchards and to harvest and sell the fruits. So as a child I lived between fruits and vegetables. My wish was to learn more about these crops, and in 1968, at the age of 17, I decided to study horticulture at Wageningen University, the only agricultural university in the Netherlands. However, in 1969 the master degree programme on human nutrition was created, linking food with nutrition and health. It became clear to me that this combination was what I was actually looking for. So I entered the first batch of starting nutritionists of Wageningen University, initially taught by Cees den Hartog and then by his successor Jo Hautvast.
My interest in public health nutrition got an important push in the mid 1990s. At that time I got involved in an EU European project working on an European masters degree for public health nutrition. This project was coordinated by Agneta Ingve and Michael Sjöström. In fact, we developed an informal European network on PHN. As an outcome of that stimulating cooperation project, a specialization in public health nutrition was created at Wageningen University within the regular master’s programme on nutrition and health.
After finishing my MSc and PhD degrees in nutrition, I became assistant professor and then associate professor at the Division of Human Nutrition of Wageningen University. In this period I became familiar with strictly controlled human and animal experiments and with longitudinal observational as well as intervention and supplementation studies, studying various target groups in various settings. These groups included pregnant and lactating women, infants, young children and adult. The settings included the Netherlands, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, and South Africa. I have teached in BSc, MSc and PhD courses and supervised and supported about 150 MSc students and about 15 PhD fellows with their research projects. I have always had a warm interest in teaching students and I chaired with great pleasure for 15 years the MSc Nutrition and Health programme committee.
After working for more than 25 years in nutrition research, I felt that we are still not working hard enough to get the scientific findings of our work incorporated into national and international nutrition policies. Therefore I decided to help bridging the gap between science and policy. In 2005 I moved to the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), while keeping a position at Wageningen University. RIVM is a knowledge and research institute, supportive to the Dutch government, but also to European Commission bodies and to WHO, and to other national governments.