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Metabolic Syndrome: A Ticking Time Bomb

01.12.2004


EU research to tackle the problem



Both obesity and type 2 diabetes have become global epidemics over recent decades bringing, in their wake, a number of metabolic symptoms and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Both of these disorders, however, are just the tip of the iceberg, being just two manifestations of the metabolic syndrome (see notes to editors) which has been suggested to affect 25% of the adult population in countries such as the UK, and has severe consequences for both public health and the economy. Research is being conducted across Europe to help tackle the metabolic syndrome and its
associated complications.

Between 10-20% of men and 10-25% of women in Europe are obese and by the year 2010, it is estimated that as many as 31 million people across Europe will need treatment for diabetes and related complications. Many of these people will display symptoms of the metabolic syndrome.



The rising prevalence of the metabolic syndrome needs to be tackled with urgency in order to prevent a public health catastrophe and huge costs to the health service and economy across Europe. Tackling the metabolic syndrome will require a huge and integrated societal effort.

Research is under way across Europe to establish the role of diet in the development of the metabolic syndrome and ways in which its prevalence and associated complications can be reduced, through the foods and diet that we eat. This research is being conducted by a pan European consortium of 24 research partners and is known as the Lipgene project (see notes to editors).

Our diets influence risk of developing chronic disease by interacting with the genes we have inherited (our genotype). For this reason, the genetic susceptibility for the metabolic syndrome is being determined, along with the role that diet, especially dietary fat, plays in the aetiology of the condition.

It is believed that changing the fatty acid composition of the diet, by replacing foods high in saturated fat (associated with an increased risk of heart disease) with foods high in unsaturated fat and increasing intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. DHA and EPA present in large amounts in oily fish) is a crucial step to help achieve a reduction in the prevalence and burden of the metabolic syndrome. But fish stocks are limited and not everyone likes oily fish. For example, in the UK around 60% of people typically don’t eat it and average weekly intake is about a third of a serving per person. Therefore, an alternative and sustainable source of long chain omega-3 fatty acids is needed to ensure optimal dietary intakes are achieved.

Innovative and cutting edge technology is being used in Lipgene to develop foods with modified fat compositions; for example, milks with a more unsaturated fatty acid profile and plant oils containing long chain omega-3 fatty acids. Such foods have the potential to play an invaluable role, in the future, in the battle against the rising tide of the metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, without consumers having to make major changes to their dietary habits. However, for novel foods to have an impact they must first be accepted by consumers. Acceptability of such food products will be explored. The cost implications of their production will be compared with the total costs to the EU economy of treating the metabolic syndrome and its complications.

A one-day conference is being held in London, on December 1st, to discuss the consequences of the metabolic syndrome, the Lipgene project and ways in which the metabolic syndrome can be tackled in terms of the food we eat.

Duty Editor | alfa
Further information:
http://www.nutrition.org.uk

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