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Obesity: Europe investigates


European researchers are assessing the candidate genes that might be involved in obesity to find out why some people prefer a high-fat diet and others do not.

The 'Eurobesity' project also hopes to discover how genetic background interacts with different diets to confer susceptibility or resistance to obesity, and to investigate the effect of nutrition in early life on dietary preferences in adulthood. This in turn might affect some metabolic factors and the development of obesity.

In some European countries, up to 60 per cent of the adult population are overweight or obese, and rates of obesity in children are estimated to be up to 30 per cent in some countries.

Obesity is a condition where abnormal or excessive fat accumulation in adipose tissue impairs health. It is a major risk factor for many chronic and debilitating conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and joint problems. The health risks, psycho-social consequences, and financial costs of obesity are substantial, and have an impact on the work of all health professionals.

Many factors influence the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity, including the amount and types of nutrients eaten, the sorts of foods that are chosen or available, appetite, metabolism, lifestyle, and psychological and genetic factors.

The team claims that knowledge of the human genome is a potentially very powerful way to investigate diseases. For example, the genomes of specific groups of individuals can be identified, and the proteins expressed by specific genes can be investigated to see how and if they function. These genes are often referred to as candidate genes.

The researchers conducted preliminary work in obese, lean and normal-weight children, as well as obese adult patients with either a relatively low or high dietary fat intake, and are now carrying out full-scale studies.

They will investigate food intake in relation to energy expenditure, the type and amount of nutrients consumed, their effects on appetite and metabolism, and psychological factors.

For more information on the project, contact Dr J. G. Mercer at the Molecular Neuroendocrinology Group in the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland.

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