50 % of Europeans are now overweight, 20 % are obese, and as these figures grow, the link with the epidemic growth of diabetes is becoming obvious. Health professionals are well aware of the relationship between a poor diet and lifestyle and the increasing risk of developing type 2 diabetes (where the body does not use insulin efficiently and sugar builds up in the blood).
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Those at risk must not only understand the condition but see how their lifestyle can become a ticking bomb of life-limiting health problems in future years, including heart disease and strokes.
The TOBI study acknowledged the real scale of today's problem with obesity. The research partners grabbed hold of the alarming statistics on reduced life expectancy and increased health costs to focus scientific and medical attention on how to intervene. The outcome has been a dual strategy. Firstly and most importantly, to identify where new treatments and lifestyle changes could be targeted, and secondly to bring a fresh approach to informing people of the diet and lifestyle issues they need to address.
The study brought together 3 SMEs and 7 universities from different countries.
Their knowledge and resources acquired a whole new dimension as they pooled their varying areas of expertise and worked together to understand the progress and impact of diabetes in obese patients. Some of the partners supplied human tissue for the TOBI Biobank which was made available to all and ensured that results were based on standard samples. On their own none of the partners would have had access to such a range or quality of samples. Added to this was a set of agreed standards for all trials and experiments, giving much greater significance to their results.
This unique combination of research has now produced ground-breaking results that show how fat tissues develop around the blood vessels and alter the body's capacity to metabolise blood sugars. As these tissues become inflamed, the risk of obesity-related disorders such as strokes and heart attacks increases.
Their collaboration has identified a molecule within the fat tissue that is susceptible a new drug to combat the inflammation and interrupt the development of obesity. In other words, the study has created a new and higher starting point for each partner to progress their own drug research and development programmes.
Work now continues at national level, with the added benefit of the invaluable network of contacts built up during the programme. TOBI has provided crucial finance and EU cooperation at the first stages of new drug development. At the end of the study all the partners are now in a much stronger position to develop drugs that fight against obesity and reduce the risk of patients going on to develop diabetes with its frightening long-term health issues. Another side of TOBI has been a much more pro-active approach to informing people of the risks they run of developing type 2 diabetes and how changes in their lifestyle can achieve really good results.
New posters and brochures are now available to health professionals as they seek to raise the profile of the link between obesity and diabetes. Putting the information across in a non-judgemental, positive way encourages individuals to adopt new lifestyle choices with greater motivation. Meaningful data is presented simply and quickly and changes to eating and exercise habits can naturally follow on.
This is also helpful in highlighting that all diabetes sufferers have to face important long-term health issues and must therefore be very aware of their diet and lifestyle. TOBI does not overlook the fact that genetic and racial or ethnic background are also important factors in developing diabetes, even though obesity has been their primary focus. The diet and lifestyle information and advice now available through TOBI is relevant to all sufferers.
YouTube has also provided an excellent means for bringing new advice alive. A short video, already viewed over 1700 times, presents multimedia health information and advice that gets the message across quickly. Then you can watch new ways of shopping and cooking, presented by a professional chef who creates mouth-watering dishes even for those with very strict dietary requirements. In other words, healthier can also mean tastier and more enjoyable.