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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Obesity used to be a problem mainly of maturity, but more and more children are now seriously overweight, too. This entails many health and social problems: a tendency to heart disease, diabetes, impaired joint and skeletal function, as well as reduced mobility and limitation of lifestyle choices. In Europe, obesity now uses up about 5% of total healthcare budgets. Dieting is rarely an answer, as dieters tend to put more weight back on when they stop dieting than they lost during their regime. Susceptibility to weight gain is largely genetic, but more sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits also contribute.

To try and turn the tide of obesity, the EU has launched a major five-year Integrated Project, DiOGenes (Diet, Obesity and Genes), bringing together experts in genetics, nutrition, public health and behaviour from 14 European countries. They aim to shed light on how genetic make-up and diet interact to encourage weight gain and develop a better understanding of what measures could be undertaken to reverse the trend. It has the potential to make significant improvements to the overall health of Europeans.


One strand in the project is to try and define what major components of diet could influence weight gain and regain. Of particular interest are the glycaemic index (GI) of carbohydrates, which reflects how quickly they are converted into glucose in the bloodstream, and high protein diets, which make people feel full more quickly. A diet chosen to maintain weight loss will be tried out for up to a year on 350 families across Europe, each with at least one adult and one child who are overweight.

These family trials run in parallel with large-scale studies at population level. Data from no fewer than 145 000 adults from five countries will be collected to see whether the GI index and protein content of their diet affects their weight and general health. Molecular genetics studies will be carried out on a significant proportion and an equal number of controls. Existing data from 6 000 pairs of genetically identical twins will be analysed, based on intensive clinical tests for 1 000 and detailed surveys for the rest. The aim is to relate genetic, shared and non-shared environmental influences and key dietary habits to the development of obesity.

The field trials will be complemented by laboratory work to identify gene-nutrient interactions associated with changes in body weight and to study genetic variation in candidate genes. Researchers will look for biomarkers of dietary intervention and predictors of weight and metabolic variation.


Food technology will play an important role in the fight against obesity. One goal is to develop foods that consumers will like and choose to eat but that also contain ingredients that prompt them to feel full and stop eating at a reasonable point. New food products will also have to meet the criteria determined in a study of the key psychological/behavioural predictors of weight gain. Lifestyle and psychosocial attitudes contribute to consumers' decisions about what to buy and eat. The strategy for producing new foods will have to take into account the project's findings about these attitudes.

A software-based screening tool will be developed to assess individual risk of obesity and give advice on a personal diet programme. Finally, the weight management software will be put through a broad demonstration and the results of the project given wide publicity to consumers, policy-makers and food producers.

List of Partners

  • Maastricht University (The Netherlands)
  • The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (Denmark)
  • Medical Research Council, Human Nutrition Research (UK)
  • University of Crete (Greece)
  • German Institute of Human Nutrition (Germany)
  • University of Navarra (Spain)
  • National Medical Transport (Bulgaria)
  • Nestec S.A (Switzerland)
  • Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic)
  • Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (France)
  • IntegraGen (France)
  • BioVisioN AG (Germany)
  • Copenhagen Hospital Corporation, Bispebjerg Hospital (Denmark)
  • Budapest University of Technology and Economics (Hungary)
  • National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (The Netherlands)
  • Centro per lo Studio e la Prevenzione Oncologica (Italy)
  • University of Helsinki (Finland)
  • Medical Research Council, Epidemiology Unit, Cambridge (UK)
  • Rowett Research Institute, Bucksburn (UK)
  • University of Leeds (UK)
  • University of Surrey (UK)
  • Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften, Hamburg (Germany)
  • Stichting Technologisch Topinstituut Voedselwetenschappen (The Netherlands)
  • NIZO Food Research (The Netherlands)
  • Matforsk AS, The Norwegian Food Research Institute (Norway)
  • Unilever Nederland BV (The Netherlands)
  • Hill Consulting (UK)
  • NetUnion (Switzerland)
  • CortecNet (France)
Full title:
Diet, obesity and genes
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Wim H.M. Saris, Maastricht University,
EC Scientific Officer:
Rosanna D'Amario, rosanna.d'
Jürgen Lucas,
EU contribution:
€ 14.5M
Integrated Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top