Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. The prevalence of obesity has tripled in many countries in Europe since the 1980s (http://www.euro.who.int/obesity).The number of those affected continues to rise at an alarming rate. It is expected that within the EU 150 million adults and 15 million children will be obese by 2010. The annual rate of increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity has been growing steadily, and the current rate is 10 times that in the 1970s. Obesity is currently responsible for 2-8% of health costs and 10-13% of deaths in different parts of Europe. The socioeconomic and public health implications of obesity are projected to worsen significantly in the next decade if the rising prevalence of the disease remains unchecked.
Few would dispute that the obesity epidemic has been driven by lifestyle and environmental changes. However, although change in lifestyle is possible, the wholesale change of our environment to that of 50 years ago in an attempt to combat obesity is likely to be difficult to achieve. How then do we proceed? Individuals respond differently to these ‘obesigenic’ environmental changes and this variation in response has a powerful underlying genetic element. Where there are genes, there are molecules to identify and biology to study. That is what we are interested in studying; the pathways and mechanisms that control food intake, with the eventual goal of explaining why some people are more likely to be obese than others.
Food intake is primarily a brain controlled affair. However, in order for the brain to make the appropriate decisions, it needs to receive information from the rest of the body; this includes information regarding levels of fat, our long term energy store; and shorter term information such as how much and what type of food has already been consumed that day. This shorter term information is provided by hormone secretion from the stomach and gut, otherwise known as our gastrointestinal tract.
The EurOCHIP consortium brings together world leaders specializing brain control of food-intake, gut hormones and human genetics in order to focus on understanding how the gut hormones communicate with the brain.