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Over half of UK adults are overweight, and around one-in-four are obese. Obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type II diabetes; and is estimated to cost the UK economy over £2Bn a year.

BBSRC invests £12.2M (2007-08) in research relevant to diet and health. Understanding how animals control energy input and expenditure will be crucial if we are to halt the growing obesity epidemic that threatens the health of millions of people.

Research on complex interactions between genetic, physiological, and psychological factors is offering new opportunities to diagnose high-risk individuals and to develop new drugs to prevent obesity and associated conditions. It also suggests how, in the future, diets and exercise regimes might be customised to meet individuals’ metabolic needs.

Some BBSRC-funded research projects in this area

Case study

Can diet help?

Scientists at the University of Oxford have studied what happens to blood flow through fat tissue when people eat. In lean, healthy people there is a three-to-four fold increase within about 30 minutes of finishing a meal. But in obese people this blood flow response to feeding is almost completely abolished.

Even some overweight, though not obese, people also lack the response and this seems to be associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including insulin resistance.

The team is now studying why this occurs, and whether diet might be used to restore blood flow responsiveness in the fat tissue of overweight and obese individuals. In particular they are studying the effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is low in saturated fat and high in fruit and vegetables. This diet has beneficial effects on blood pressure, and the Oxford scientists hope it might also improve blood flow regulation in adipose tissue.

Further examples of BBSRC-funded research in this area are available in our publication Bioscience behind tackling obesity.

Public engagement

In 2005, BBSRC commissioned a study of public attitudes to research on diet and health as part of its commitment to take account of the views of all stakeholders, including industry, policymakers and the wider public, in making its funding and policy decisions.