Potential applications of genomics in obesity prevention

29 October 2007

A new report on the increasing health problem of overweight and obesity in the UK has been launched; the report from the UK Government group Foresight, Tackling obesities: future choices, is the product of a two year study by a large group of experts to produce a ‘long-term vision of a sustainable response to obesity in the UK over the next 40 years’ (see Foresight project website). Looking at the causes and predicted progression of obesity, the report predicts that 60% of men and 40% of women in the UK population will be obese by 2050, with the annual cost based on increased morbidity reaching £46 billion. It is proposed that an effective response to this trend towards widespread obesity, rather than being focused solely on individuals, will require cross-cutting societal approaches to increase activity levels and decrease consumption of high-calorie foods in the population as a whole. The role of individual genetic factors in determining resistance or predispostion towards obesity must also be taken into consideration.

The report also considers emerging areas of research such as the field of nutrigenomics (‘the science of personalised nutrition’), and their potential applications in the struggle to reduce levels of obesity, although Dr Siân Astley of the European Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGO) has reportedly said that nutrigenomics 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, maybe individualised advice via nutrigenetics and genetic testing" whilst cautioning that the influences of genetics on obesity are multiple, and intimately associated with environmental and behavioural factors (see FoodNavigator report).The UK government has reportedly announced the intention to work at the ‘environmental and organisational level’ to combat the obesity epidemic [Hitchen L (2007) BMJ 335(7624):789].

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