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A sugar tax was introduced in the United Kingdom in April 2018, and France and Finland have one too. The three countries – and they are not alone – want to reduce the amount of sugar consumed by their citizens. This is because sugar is partly responsible for rising levels of obesity. Over the past four decades, the number of obese – that is to say grossly overweight – children and teenagers has increased more than tenfold worldwide. A study conducted by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 124 million children and teenagers between the ages of five and 19 are obese, and identified a further 213 million who are overweight.
Scientists in Germany are exploring various questions related to obesity. In a recently published study (press release only in German, original study available here), researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Mannheim investigated among other things who those surveyed held responsible for obesity. They found that most people believe that the grossly overweight have only themselves to blame. Since December 2017, a group of young researchers at the Institute of Nutritional Medicine (only in German) at the University Hospital rechts der Isar of the Technical University of Munich has been looking at questions of personalised diet. "Personalised Nutrition & eHealth" (PeNut) (only in German) is the name of the group that is being set up as part of the nutrition research competence cluster (only in German) funding initiative of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The project, which is funded to the tune of 2.5 million euros and forms part of the enable nutrition research cluster, will see collaboration between scientists such as biologists, nutritionists and health experts, doctors, computer scientists and statisticians.
Personalising diet for successful therapy?
The goal of the young research group is to identify and study the parameters for a personalised diet. To this end, the young scientists are examining the participants of a comprehensive study very closely: How does their individual metabolism work? How much energy do they consume at rest? These are the initial questions. Once the participants have lost some weight, a phase begins during which they are supposed to maintain their weight. Then the researchers explore how well the participants respond to a low-carb or low-fat diet. They also analyse whether it helps participants keep their weight stable if they receive information about nutrition and diet via an app or newsletter.
One thing the researchers are particularly keen to explore in the study is the extent to which the genetic make-up of participants influences their individual outcomes, explains research group head Dr Christina Holzapfel. "We hope that the study’s findings will allow us to work out a personalised diet which will improve the obesity therapy", explains the nutritionist.
The researchers will profit during the course of their work from the enable cluster’s activities to support young scientists. Among other things, summer schools and workshops led by renowned experts in nutrition science and food development are run. In addition, the cluster facilitates collaboration with young scientists from other disciplines, both in Germany and abroad. "Working in the young research group and the enable cluster thus serves as an excellent platform for networking", says Christina Holzapfel.
Obesity Competence Network – Young Network
Within the framework of the Obesity Competence Network, a “Young Network” of roughly 100 young researchers was established that is open to all young experts interested in the subject of obesity. At the German Obesity Society’s annual conference, the doctoral researchers always have the opportunity to present their research findings in their own symposium. The Obesity Competence Network was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research until the end of 2016 but will continue to run in the future.www.kompetenznetz-adipositas.de > Junges Netzwerk Adipositas (only in German)