UK researchers delve deeper into obesity

Related tags Obesity Nutrition

Researchers looking at the rising occurrence of obesity in the UK
population will present some interesting findings - including the
affects of carbohydrates levels on the diet, portion sizes and more
insight into 'friendly' fats - at a conference being held in London

Researchers looking at the rising occurrence of obesity in the UK population will present some interesting findings - including the affects of carbohydrates levels on the diet, portion sizes and more insight into 'friendly' fats - at a conference being held in London today.

As UK waistbands expand out of control, the meeting of the Association for the Study of Obesity​ will take a look at some of the most current research into this disease. The talks will give an insight into the work that may help top scientists treat obesity more effectively and begin to prevent the epidemic worsening by identifying susceptible individuals and educating the public on reducing risk of obesity to them and their children.

One of the key research topics that the meeting will cover is the latest findings on how some carbohydrates may have a role in weight loss. Dr Gary Frost will speak about the effect of low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates, which include pasta, wholegrains and beans, on appetite regulation. Beneficial effects of these foods on dieting have previously been shown, but his group has noted effects on insulin and glucose metabolism that may influence food intake long-term.

Recently, successful no-carb diets have received much coverage, but Dr Frost claims that his work shows that eating low GI carbohydrates could help people to lose weight through controlling the recently identified 'hunger hormones'. A further claim is that this kind of behaviour change in over-eaters would enable long-term weight maintenance.

Dr Frost, of Imperial College and Hammersmith Hospital, commented, "our research is focusing on the role of these carbohydrates and their effect on the gut hormones that are involved in appetite control. Initial evidence suggests they could help weight loss through their effects on metabolism and hunger. More research is needed and we will continue to investigate this to elucidate their physiological role."

One size does not fit all

Results of a Europe-wide research initiative will also attempt to uncover why some people can eat what they like and stay slim, whilst for others every cake or biscuit piles on the pounds. This work could herald a new era in obesity prevention and treatment.Dr Julian Mercer will present an overview, while Professor John Blundell will discuss specific results, of an EU project to determine why some people are more susceptible to weight gain than others. The study has included molecular, physiological, behavioural and clinical approaches to identify both hereditary and personality risk factors for developing obesity.

Current health promotion initiatives and obesity treatments tend to follow the 'one size fits all' rationale and have had little success in curbing the problem. Studies like this could lead to preventative medicine and disease therapy that is personally tailored to an individual's 'obesogenic' profile, taking into account the genetic, metabolic and psychological characteristics of the patient.

Dr Mercer, of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, said: "The Diet and Obesity Project characterises what factors, both behavioural and metabolic, make some people resistant to excessive weight gain even when consuming a high fat diet. With this knowledge we could advise on and alter lifestyle, nutrition and behaviour of predisposed individuals to reduce the risk of developing this debilitating and dangerous disease."

Friendly fats fight disease

Metabolic syndrome is the collective term for the range of obesity-related diseases - including diabetes and heart disease - that often develop in older obese individuals. An EU-funded project is attempting to identify why obesity can cause these diseases and how obese people can reduce their risk.

Obesity is a causative factor in developing metabolic syndrome, but the mechanism is not fully understood. At the conference Lynda Williams of the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, will talk about her group's work on understanding why many obese people develop metabolic syndrome and how 'friendly fats' could help to combat its onset.

One theory is that excess fat gets stored in tissues such as muscle (including heart muscle) and pancreatic beta cells. This 'ectopic' fat storage damages cell function and metabolic disease can result. For example, type 2 diabetes develops when beta cells are damaged.

EU researchers working on this project are investigating how certain fats - some of those found in oily fish, beef, lamb and dairy products - may actually help to burn off this 'ectopic' fat, and therefore help to prevent metabolic syndrome in obese patients.

Dr Williams who leads the EU project said, "we are beginning to see that perhaps more importantly than losing weight, obese people should try to maintain good metabolic fitness - this means improving the health of tissues such as the pancreas. Along with exercise we believe that eating 'friendly' fats, for example those found in oily fish, assists this process."

Dr Williams continues, "we hope that our work will enable us to identify those people predisposed to developing obesity-related disease and clarify the diet and lifestyle choices that will reduce the risk to them."

New-born nutrition, the debate continues

There is conflicting evidence as to whether formula- and breast milk-fed babies differ in their susceptibility to obesity in later life. The EU Childhood Obesity Programme is the largest trial to investigate this, and concentrates on the theory the higher protein content in infant formula may cause increased obesity risk.

The project involves over 1000 babies in five European countries. The babies will either be breast fed or fed with formula of differing protein contents that has been made especially for this trial. The subjects will be followed up at two and eight years.

Dr Margaret Ashwell, a sub-contractor in the EU project, said "the conflicting reports that have been released recently make this large-scale international trial all the more important. This long-term study will clarify any obesity risk from the high protein content of infant formula."

She added, "what we feed our babies is of paramount importance and new mothers can find the decision between formula and breast very difficult and confusing. From this research we will be able to offer new parents definitive evidence-based advice on infant nutrition."

The Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) currently has over 500 members in the UK and includes professionals from a wide range of occupations from scientists to healthcare specialists all working within the field of obesity.

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