Obesity has become one of the major public health challenges for both developed and developing nations, with some rather chilling statistics. Worldwide, 1.9 billion adults and 42 million children are overweight or obese. Within the EU itself, Eurostat estimated in 2014 that 51.6 % of the EU’s population was overweight. One in three children in the EU is overweight.
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Socially, the sensitive topic of people’s weight has entrenched itself into our culture, with cultural expressions including the ‘Plus Size’ movement in fashion and the growing backlash over the concept of ‘fat shaming’ (the idea that making overweight people feel ashamed of their weight may motivate them to make healthier decisions) being just two examples.
However, whilst it should always be encouraged to promote a positive body image, the scientific evidence is clear: Being overweight or obese can drastically impact an individual’s health, significantly increasing the risk of chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, hypertension and coronary heart diseases. Alongside physical diseases, being overweight can also lead to a wide range of psychological disorders, such as depression.
Asked what the root cause of obesity is, many would be immediately prompted to reply food and diet. And, as our front cover to this issue highlights, these are indeed essential ingredients in the causes of obesity. But it’s really not that simple and many other factors are at play, which also must be addressed if this growing public health problem is to be stopped in its tracks and reversed.
Over the following pages, you’ll read about eight EU-funded projects that have taken on obesity and have contributed significantly to our fundamental understanding of the condition, as well as provided possible solutions that can help us confront this growing public health crisis. Projects such as Child-MHO, EASY and NeuroEE have made exciting breakthroughs in the lab, showing how the role of genetics and metabolism can have a direct impact on a person’s weight. Meanwhile, the ERC-funded i2MOVE project is developing a new generation of neural interfaces to provide innovative treatments for people who are overweight or obese.
From a sociological point-of-view, the OBESCLAIM project has studied the role of nutritional labelling on food products in the fight against obesity. Finally, the INNOPREFAT project, from an innovative Spanish SME, has utilised an intriguing combination of lemon verbena and hibiscus to develop an innovative product that has proven to help people lose weight.
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