Europe invests in obesity research

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Obesity

European scientists have been awarded a record grant, worth €11.7
million, from the European Commission for research into the ways in
which we control our body weight. It is hoped that the project will
find new treatments for obesity.

The grant is thought to be the largest ever given to diabetes and obesity research. It goes towards a five-year project, called Diabesity, being coordinated by Sweden's Gothenberg University and collaborating work by scientists in 10 other European countries.

The Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland has been given £250,000 of the funding to continue its research on hamsters. The institute's scientists say they have found genes in the Siberian hamster that could control how much they eat at various times of the year. The hamsters are able to adjust their weight to become fatter in the summer and leaner in the winter.

Their recently published findings have for the first time related specific genes to the regulation of a body weight 'set point' in an animal model. Further research could help to tackle human obesity.

Professor Peter Morgan, director of the Rowett Institute​, said: "Part of the reason why it is so difficult for humans to lose weight, and keep it off, is that we have evolved regulatory systems to protect our energy stores. So once we are overweight our brains exert powerful control mechanisms to keep us at that weight."

"Since the underlying mechanisms of body weight control are likely to have remained in place throughout evolution, we hope that some elements of the hamsters' control systems may be still present in humans."

But at a European conference on obesity last week, another scientist claimed that diet is not the only defining cause of obesity, particularly in children.

Professor Claus Vögele from the UK's university of Surrey pointed to one of the most comprehensive studies on childhood obesity, the Kiel obesity prevention study (KOPS), which found that no identifiable link exists between an unhealthy diet and obesity. Instead, children are more likely to become obese if they come from a low income family, live very sedentary lives, or have obese parents.

Professor Vögele advocated a focus on improved education, social support and encouragement of exercise in the battle against obesity, but also criticised society in the West for placing more emphasis on weight loss than on health.

"You can have very healthy overweight people - that's somehow buried in the current worries about obesity,"​ he said.

Obesity is widely believed to be linked to a raft of diseases, notably increasing levels of diabetes around the world. The health food industry is set to benefit from increasing consumer awareness of the role of diet in disease prevention and new proposals unveiled by the European Commission last year to regulate health claims will allow food makers to further promote healthy foods. Some industry members have however criticised the proposals as producers of any foods high in salt, sugar or fat will be banned from making any health claims, regardless of any nutrients that may also be present in the food.

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