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Quick Look at Obesity

Quick Look at Obesity


As one of the most preventable forms of death in the world today, obesity is widely regarded as one of the most serious public health concerns of the 21st century.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

Even last week, former U.S. President Bill Clinton described the condition as “the biggest public health problem in America today,” whilst other world leaders have consistently warned that if we fail to tackle the problem, average life expectancies could actually begin to fall, with success rates in numerous fields reversing in the process. In response to this, important research is producing not only a greater understanding of the genetic element to obesity, but also, the first scientific steps on the road to treating what is now one of the greatest scientific challenges of the 21st century.

Only this week, Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, warned that due to the continuing impact of obesity in Britain – and indeed the wider world - cancer rates are set to “double” in the next forty years. Highlighting the seriousness of what is now widely considered to be an epidemic, Sir Michael described the problem as “catastrophic” and “enormous”, adding that “The numbers are just frightening on a global scale”. Indeed far beyond the shores of the UK, obesity is a problem that challenges almost every country in the developed world and beyond. “After cardiovascular disease, it's the next highest cause of death in this country." Already, 7 million people die from obesity related illnesses worldwide every year. If recent findings by the World Cancer Research Fund are correct, the figure is expected to rise from 7 to 10 million by 2010 – with the number of new cases also rising from 10 million today to 16 million by 2020.

In turns of new research and scientific studies, the evidence continues to mount in telling us that lifestyle plays a big part of the solution. New research, including a study on 20,000 people between 1993 and 1997 has been critical in cementing this conclusion. In this particular study, researchers from The University of East Anglia told how 'Leading an unhealthy lifestyle more than doubles the risk of stroke'. The results of the study specifically stressed the importance of a low alcohol intake, fruits and vegetables and daily exercise. The importance of a good diet and physical activity were perhaps unsurprisingly stressed in the study and a statement from the Department of Health echoed these results, adding that "Obesity is the biggest health challenge we face and many people simply don't know that being overweight can lead to major health problems”. Strokes are the third biggest killer in the UK and they cost the taxpayer 7 million pounds every year.

Additionally, in terms of treatments, scientists at the University of Dusseldorf have recently been carrying out important research into the importance of the FTO gene (creatively dubbed the 'fat gene'). Pre-existing research has already proven a link between the gene and obesity and previous studies have proven that those with the gene are up to 70 per cent more likely to be obese than those without it. More recently, Ulrich Ruther and his colleagues in Dusseldorf have added further weight behind this theory by producing even more conclusive evidence of the FTO gene's relevance in relation to obesity. By studying a group of mice, the team was able to de-activate the FTO gene in order to assess the contrast between two sets of genetic behaviour. Those animals lacking the FTO gene were shown to have lost fat tissue as a result of spontaneous calorie reduction, despite having eaten more and exercised less than other animals – proving a direct link between the gene and metabolic rates. Scientific studies that offer this kind of insight into the genetic aspects of obesity may prove extremely useful to the future development of weight control drugs and treatments. Indeed, whilst prevention in the form of a sensible diet and regular exercise will doubtless continue to deliver the most success in the near future, a better understanding of the genetic science behind obesity could add another layer to our attack against this rising problem. In the most basic of senses, if your body mass index (BMI) is over 30, you are clinically obese.