Obesity report lends weight to nutrigenomics

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

A shocking report which predicts more than half the population of
Britain will be extremely overweight by 2050 could give an
incentive for developing personalised nutrition as a tool for
cutting obesity.

The Foresight report, 'Tackling Obesities: Future Choices', is a two-year study conducted by almost 250 experts and scientists to examine the causes of obesity and map future trends to help the government develop new health strategies. Rising obesity also has a huge impact on public health services, and Foresight predicts the cost of the epidemic, in terms of health care provision and lost working hours, could reach £45bn a year by 2050. One possible scenario which could help the situation and even fuel public policy is the "potential uses of emerging technologies​" such as nutrigenomics. Nutrigenomics, a phrase coined in 1999, is the study of how nutrients and genes interact and how genetic variations can cause people to respond differently to food nutrients. Personalised nutrition is a subset of nutrigenomics termed nutrigenetics, which looks at how hereditable genetic make-up predisposes a response to nutrition. ​The study suggests that "building technology into these services may enable consumers in the future to purchase personalised nutrition plans​" which would then be able to set out what food should be eaten for meals. However, the report also notes there is a "shortage of evidence​" regarding how successful this may be in leading to sustainable weight. Indeed, the study of personalized nutrition is in its infancy, and according to the the European Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGO) it could be upto 20 years before nutrigenomics will be able to underpin public health care advice. Dr Siân Astley from NuGo said: "It is true that nutrigenomics may have a role in both managing and treating obesity as well as its prevention.​ "The problem is there are more than 600 genes currently associated with obesity. These genes interact with one another and with our environment including diet and lifestyle to impact an individual's risk of becoming obese. But, obesity is a highly complex disease and includes not only biochemical but also physiological and social issues." ​ She added that nutrigenomics is not the magic bullet but has "potential to underpin more-targeted more-specific public healthcare advice and perhaps in the future, when we have a better understanding of which if any genes are most important, may be individualised advice via nutrigenetics and genetic testing​."​ Last month DSM invested €2m in Finnish genetic research company Jurilab Oy - a move which reinforces the Dutch group's commitment to expanding further into personalized nutrition. The firm said the long term aim of the deal was to develop "innovative nutritional products​" to fit individual consumers' genetic profiles. DSM has also invested heavily in Sconia after identifying personalized nutrition as one an 'emerging business areas.' While an accurate prediction for how long we can wait is almost impossible to pin down, several companies are already making in roads in the area. Nutrigenetic testing is already commercially available, with tests costing around $250. Those offered by Sciona and Genelex test for around 20 genes and people's lifestyle and dietary habits. However, attempts to introduce them into mainstream shops were not easy. In 2002 The Body Shop UK withdrew a range of tests from Sciona from its shelves, which was available as a trial basis. The tests were mired by criticism that they were "unregulated" and "misleading." In the UK these types of tests are now only available through private clinics. Guidelines have been drawn up NuGo earlier this year, which the group hopes could be used as a starting point for researchers and parties interested in the ethical principles involved in population-based genomics research. The guidelines are not a legal document and the ethical approval for nutrigenomics research will depend on the legal standards found in individual Member States. Many countries have begun their own nutrigenomic projects to get a head start in the field. New Zealand and the Netherlands both have national programs. In the US, several universities have established centers of excellence, like the University of California, Davis and Pen State University. However, four personalized nutrition companies - Sciona, Genelex, Market America, and Suracell - were last July named by the US Government Accountability Office for having "misled consumers by making predictions that are medically unproven and so ambiguous that they do not provide meaningful information"​ by offering over the counter nutrigenomic tests.

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