Western governments are increasingly turning to food choices and consumer diets as a way to tackle rising health concerns. Heart disease kills more people around the world than any other, according to the World Health Organisation, and there are currently more than 194 million people with diabetes worldwide.
Food choices could reverse these trends but less is known about specific foods that may help to reduce health risks. The government-funded Food Standards Agency(FSA) has earmarked £2.7 million (€4m) for the four year study that will look at the impact of changes in the amount and composition of fat and carbohydrate on the chances of developing a collection of risk factors linked to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
The global incidence of these risk factors, collectively known as the 'metabolic syndrome', is soaring. The clinical conditions linked to the metabolic syndrome are obesity, type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood fats and raised blood pressure. Each of these conditions is a risk-factor for the metabolic syndrome in its own right, but if individuals have more than one of these conditions the risk is multiplied.
"Scientific studies on the optimum dietary strategy for reducing the risk of the metabolic syndrome are limited," said Dr Julie Lovegrove, lead researcher from the University of Reading, participating in the study.
Risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome - which affects up to 25 per cent of UK adults - include obesity, raised blood pressure and abnormal blood fat levels. In most cases, development of the metabolic syndrome is caused by eating too much of the wrong kind of foods and taking too little exercise.
"This important project will contribute to the evidence on the type and quantity of fat and carbohydrate in the diet that is effective at reducing the risk of the metabolic syndrome," added Lovegrove.
The researchers are aiming to design dietary strategies that could be implemented to cut the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes in the UK population.
Led by MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge, scientists at the University of Reading, Imperial College London, Kings College London (KCL) and the University of Surrey will also work on the study that will involve 650 volunteers in total, 130 at each of the five participating centres.
Foods for the study have been provided by supermarket retailer Sainsbury's Supermarkets, Unilever Health Institute, Cereal Partners UK and Rank Hovis.