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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



The population of Europe is growing older and fatter. By 2030, nearly a third of Europeans will be over 60. The European Council of Ministers has expressed grave concern about the social and economic impact of increasing obesity in Europe. In several countries, the cost of obesity is already 5% of total public health expenditure, largely due to the treatment of older people suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and high levels of fat in the blood. These conditions characterise what is known as the metabolic syndrome which affects overweight people, generally in middle and old age. By 2010, some 31 million Europeans will require treatment for diabetes. But recent research shows that diet and exercise are better than drug treatment at preventing development of obesity-related diabetes.

LIPGENE, a five-year Sixth Framework Programme Integrated Project, is helping to reduce the economic and social burden of obesity by assessing the potential for diet-based prevention of metabolic syndrome. It involves 21 partners from ten countries, including scientists, economists and business.


One major scientific aspect of LIPGENE is to find out whether our genes modify the way diet affects our body. Can everyone benefit from a better diet, or are some people at risk whatever they eat? Using the data from a population-based study of 13 000 people, scientists will search for genes that predispose us to suffering ill effects from obesity. Are some people more sensitive to certain types of fat? Some fats, such as saturated fats, enhance the ill effects of being overweight. Other types of fat, notably the n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids which are found mainly in fish oil, are healthier. LIPGENE will carry out a large study on what happens to those people at risk of metabolic syndrome if they change the fats in their diet. How much of an improvement is possible using diet alone? Do the genes associated with metabolic syndrome make a difference? The scientists will also study key mechanisms in fat and muscle tissue to find out how these genes work.

If some fats are better than others, why not use modern technology to modify the fat composition of food? LIPGENE scientists will engineer genes from marine algae into linseed plants so as to produce oil with a higher composition of healthy fatty acids. Another group will try to improve the composition of milk and meat fats by changing animal diets. Following this research, the project will produce a range of demonstration foods containing the improved fats, such as milk, cheese, poultry meat and margarine. This consumer test will be addressed not just to the general public, but also to companies which might be willing to develop such products.


On the social and economic front, LIPGENE will assess the true European cost of obesity-related health problems and weigh up both the costs and benefits of introducing modified fats in food. It is crucial to ask how the general public feels about dealing with obesity in this way. Are we happy to change the nutritional content of foods? Are genetically modified foods acceptable in this context? Equally, how do Europeans feel about accessing the information in our genes which tells us whether we are likely to suffer complications from being overweight? LIPGENE will survey opinions of metabolic syndrome sufferers across Europe to find out whether introducing these technologies would be popular, effective and would have a high cost benefit. The consortium will work hard to publicise all its findings and hopes to stimulate debate on the future of food policy at the highest level.

List of Partners

  • University College, Dublin (Ireland)
  • Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, Centre for Dairy Research and Animal Nutrition Science Research Unit, University of Reading (UK)
  • University of Oslo (Norway)
  • University of Bergen (Norway)
  • Units 476 and 557, INSERM (France)
  • Maastricht University (The Netherlands)
  • Hospital Universitario Reina Sofía, University of Córdoba (Spain)
  • The Jagiellonian University Medical College (Poland)
  • Uppsala University (Sweden)
  • Unilever Bestfoods (The Netherlands)
  • BASF Plant Science (Germany)
  • University of York (UK)
  • Rothamsted Research (UK)
  • Rowett Research Institute (UK)
  • MTT Agrifood Finland (UK)
  • Clermont-Theix Research Centre and UR-1154 Châtenay-Malabry, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • University of Ulster (UK)
  • University of Porto (Portugal)
  • British Nutrition Foundation (UK)
  • LMC International (UK)
  • Hitachi Europe (Ireland)
Full title:
Diet, genomics and the metabolic syndrome: an integrated nutrition, agro-food, social and economic analysis
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Michael J. Gibney, University College Dublin,
Helen Roche, University College Dublin,
EC Scientific Officer:
Rosanna.D'Amario, rosanna.d'
Isabelle de Froidmont-Görtz,
EU contribution:
€ 12.5M
Integrated Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top