Press Releases

Metabolic Syndrome: A ticking time bomb – University of Reading

Release Date : 01 December 2004

selection of vegetablesBoth 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 for editors below) 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. Scientists at Reading play a major role in that research. 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 for editors below). Professor Christine Williams, Head of Reading's School of Food Biosciences, is undertaking research for the Human Nutrition 'arm' of the Lipgene project. Professor Ian Givens, Director of both the Nutritional Sciences Research Unit and the Centre for Dairy Research in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, is undertaking research for the Animal Nutrition 'arm'. 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 Wednesday 1 December, 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. Both Professor Williams and Professor Givens are speaking at the conference. For further information contact: Dr Anne Nugent or Dr Hannah Theobald at the British Nutrition Foundation on + 44 (0) 20 7404 6504 or e-mail: End Notes for editors 1. An excess of body fat, especially abdominal fat, leads to impaired glucose and lipid metabolism, which leads to hyperinsulinaemia (a high blood insulin level, also known as insulin resistance). At its most severe this leads to diabetes; less severe degrees of insulin resistance lead to what is a multi-component disease known as the metabolic syndrome. The metabolic syndrome describes a clustering of several risk factors for heart disease and stroke, namely abdominal obesity, abnormal blood lipids (e.g. high LDL cholesterol [especially small dense LDL], reduced HDL cholesterol & raised triglyceride concentrations), insulin resistance and high blood pressure (hypertension). Metabolic syndrome is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke); those with the metabolic syndrome are three times more likely to suffer heart disease or stroke than someone with normal blood insulin concentrations. For further information on the metabolic syndrome and the Lipgene project please visit for Q and As on the topic. 2. The Lipgene project, entitled 'Diet, genomics and the metabolic syndrome: an integrated nutrition, agro-food, social and economic analysis' is a five-year research project funded by the EU Commission. It will explore the interactions of nutrients and genotype in the metabolic syndrome. More information on the project can be found at 3. A one-day conference is being held to discuss the Lipgene project and the implications of the metabolic syndrome. The conference has been organised by the British Nutrition Foundation in association with the Nutrition Society, on behalf of the Lipgene consortium (coordinator: Professor Mike Gibney, Trinity College Dublin). This event is funded by the EU Commission (project number FOOD-CT-2003-505944).


Search Form

Main navigation