Findings from the EU funded research network could ultimately bring openings in new product development for the food industry.
Pouring funds into the Europe wide collaboration, the EU DiOGenes project will investigate dietary macronutrient components to facilitate the prevention of weight gain and regain.
Almost one third of people living in the European Union are overweight and more than one in ten is now obese, according to European Association for the Study of Obesity.
The numbers of children who are overweight is set to rise from 20 per cent to 25 per cent by 2008, say analysts Datamonitor.
And the costs are high. The DiOGenes project estimates that obesity consumes about 5 per cent of total health care budgets in the EU.
Food technology studies will form an integral part of the project, say the researchers, who will aim to develop foods that score highly in terms of consumer preference, but which also limit intake through "enhanced satiety signals".
They will specifically study the role of the glycaemic index (GI) of carbohydrate and of a high dietary protein content for enhancing the feeling of 'fullness'.
The glycaemic index, which ranks the impact of a food on blood sugar levels, is seeing growing interest because of its potential to reduce risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
While science to support this link remains limited, the body of evidence is increasing, and food manufacturers under pressure from government and media are beginning to investigate the use of the GI as a means of improving the nutritional value of their products.
"Our investigations require a combination of skills and disciplines seldom found in industry and science," say the researchers.
Conclusions disseminated from the project are likely to bring benefits to the food industry, crucially at the level of product development.
"With access to large long-term prospective cohorts across Europe with hard clinical and nutritional data, DiOGenes has an unique opportunity to identify gene-nutrient interactions associated with changes in body weight and waist circumference," the project claims.
The network will examine the mechanistic impact of changes in macronutrient composition on weight control. A large long-term randomised, parallel dietary intervention study including whole families with both obese and normal weight members in eight different countries across Europe has been launched.
Large scale longitudinal analysis of genetic variation in candidate genes and novel approaches, such as gene expression in fat tissue and plasma peptidomics, will give researchers the opportunity to identify sets of DNA polymorphisms, adipose tissue mRNA's and plasma peptides.
"Ultimately enabling the prediction of an individual's response to nutrients in terms of weight change, which will in turn guide a diet-based treatment."
Further, the project highlights that the epidemiological and intervention studies will be flanked and supported by detailed analysis of the psychological/behavioural responses of subjects.
"We will identify key psychological/behavioural predictors of weight gain given a genetic susceptibility, for use in diagnosing risk of weight gain and for better matching diets to consumer needs," add the researchers.
The DiOGenes project is funded under the EU's food quality and safety drive within the EU sixth framework programme (FP6).