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Posted 15 December 2008

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It’s in the genes… scientists show links between obesity and genetics

Scientists at the UCD Institute of Food & Health are investigating effective dietary treatments and nutritional therapies for obesity by looking how a person’s genes can determine their individual responsiveness to what they eat.

Obesity is a major health hazard worldwide.  According to the latest Department of Health Report, 66% of Irish adults are overweight with close to 25% per cent being defined as obese (Dietary Habits of the Irish Population, 2008). And it is estimated that 50% of Europeans will be obese by 2050. Currently, obesity costs the EU an estimated €32.8 billion each year.

Obesity is directly linked to chronic common diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and some cancers. Despite the serious negative health consequences of obesity, there appears to be little concern among the general public around this type of eating behaviour.

The UCD Institute of Food & Health is one of the leading research centres working on the interaction of genetics and human health.   According to the Institute’s director,  Professor Mike Gibney, genetics plays a dominant role in obesity.  “Although lifestyle, overeating and under-exercise are exacerbating the problem, we are investigating the impact of certain clusters of genes on obesity.

However, Professor Gibney stressed that using genetics as an excuse for being overweight is not acceptable.  “On the contrary, applying the human genome to nutrition and personal health can provide personalised dietary recommendations that reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases.”

The science of personalised nutrition is still in its early stages but, in the future, it may be that a GP will take a blood sample to compare a patient’s genotype against genes active in common diseases.  This information may then be related to the person’s lifestyle and environmental factors in order to gauge whether physical activity as opposed to nutritional regulation might have more impact on improving the patient’s health.

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