Brussels, 18 Jun 2004
The European Commission is providing funding under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to an Integrated Project aimed at reducing the economic and social burden of obesity by assessing the potential for diet-based prevention of metabolic syndrome.
Everyone knows that the European population is growing older. What fewer people realise is that Europeans are also growing fatter.
The Council of Ministers emphasised its 'great concern about the serious health, social and economic impact of the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity in individuals, particularly children, and in the European Community' in December 2002.
The Council want on to refer to 'scientific results showing that obesity is the major cause of a range of serious associated diseases', and called for Member States to take rapid and appropriate action.
Indeed, in several European countries, the cost of obesity is already five per cent of total public health expenditure. The result of this concern is the 'Diet, genomics and the metabolic syndrome: an integrated nutrition, agro-food, social and economic analysis' (LipGene) project - a consortium of 25 research laboratories from ten countries .
Metabolic syndrome is characterised by a group of metabolic risk factors in one person. The underlying causes of this syndrome are obesity, physical inactivity and genetic factors. People with the metabolic syndrome are at increased risk of coronary heart disease, strokes and peripheral vascular diseases, as well as type 2 diabetes.
By 2030, some 31 million Europeans will require treatment for diabetes. Research, however, has shown that diet and exercise are better than drugs at preventing the development of obesity-related diabetes.
'The major scientific aspect of LipGene is to find out whether our genes modify the way diet affects our body. Can everyone benefit from a better diet or are some people at risk whatever they eat?' explained the project coordinator, Michael Gibney, from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
Using the data from a population-based study of 13,000 people, the team of scientists will search for genes that predispose people to suffering ill effects from obesity.
'Are some people more sensitive to certain types of fat? LipGene will carry out a large study on what happens to those people at risk of metabolic syndrome if they change the fats in their diet. How much of an improvement is possible using diet alone? Do the genes associated with metabolic syndrome make a difference?' added Dr Gibney.
Scientists will also study key mechanisms in fat and muscle tissue to find out how those genes work.
LipGene researchers will engineer genes from marine algae into linseed plants so as to produce oil with a higher composition of healthy fatty acids. They will also try to improve the composition of milk and meat fats by changing animal diets.
Following this research, the project will produce a range of demonstration foods containing the improved fats, such as milk, cheese, poultry meat and margarine. This consumer test will be available to both the general public and companies that may be willing to develop such products.
On the social and economic front, LipGene will assess the true European cost of obesity-related health problems and weigh up both the costs and benefits of introducing modified fats in food.
LipGene will also survey the opinions of metabolic syndrome sufferers from across Europe in order to ascertain whether introducing these techniques would be popular, effective and cost efficient.
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