New diagnostic methods for obesity may soon be developed, according to scientists working on a three-year international research project called Nugenob. The European funded project has set out to explore the relationship between diet, in particular fat intake, genetics and obesity.
Today, 20-40 per cent of all Europeans are characterised by researchers as being overweight. An additional 10-20 per cent are considered to be obese. Obesity poses a serious health threat - increasing the risk of conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers and high blood pressure. The increase in the prevalence of obesity could most likely be attributed to a combination of environmental and genetic factors with up to 40 per cent of weight variations between different people attributed to genetic differences.
The goal of Nugenob is to find and analyse new genes whose role in the development and maintenance of obesity are dependent on the diet. Specific objectives include the analysis of gene activity in adipose (fat) tissue in relation to acute consumption of a meal with a high fat content, as well as in relation to a diet either of high or low fat content.
In addition, research aims to clarify the influence of different 'versions' of a particular gene on the physiological reactions in overweight people to the intake of a high-fat meal, especially regarding energy conversion, appetite and the level of various hormones and other substances in the blood related to metabolism.
Finally, the group will set out to identify markers for the magnitude and composition of weight loss during weight reduction intervention, including changes in fat intake.
All test participants (obese and normal weight) experience one day of clinical examinations, which focuses on the physiological reactions to the intake of a high-fat meal. The overweight test participants then go through a 10-week weight loss programme. They are randomised to follow either a low-fat diet, consisting of 20-25 per cent energy from fat, or a high-fat diet, consisting of 40-50 per cent energy from fat.
The researchers are hoping that these investigations will improve the understanding of the interaction between genetics and dietary fat content in the development of obesity. This may lead to new diagnostic methods for obesity, which should make it possible to determine which diet type an individual should follow in order to achieve effective weight loss.
Progress of the project (QLK1-2000-00618 NUGENOB), co-ordinated by Dr Camilla Verdich at Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark can be followed here.