New centre to tackle cost of diet-related diseases

A new Centre for Preventive Medicine is launched in Norwich next week to tackle diet-related diseases that are costing the NHS up to a quarter of its budget.

The Centre brings together basic research from two internationally renowned research institutes, medical research by university scientists and clinical research conducted in a hospital environment.

“People are living longer but many of these increasingly suffer from chronic diseases,” said Professor Peter Kopelman of the University of East Anglia. “By closely linking laboratory science with patient centred research, and population findings, we aim to reduce this suffering through the prevention of diseases associated with unhealthy lifestyle that include obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

Research published at the end of last year in the British Medical Journal warned that obesity alone could bankrupt the NHS. And last month former NatWest bank chief Sir Derek Wanless warned that if current trends continue 33% of men, 28% of women and 20% of children will be obese by 2010.

Estimates show that the annual total cost to the NHS of diet related disease is £20 billion and rising.

“Our research provides evidence to help government and health organisations with policies to improve health and save money,” said Professor Richard Mithen of the Institute of Food Research. “For example, as research starts to reveal why some individuals are more prone to diet related diseases than others, more targeted and personalised advice will be possible.”

The diverse research interests, all focused on disease prevention, range from the effect of the physical environment on how active we are to the effect of the physical structure of starch on glycaemic index. Some examples are:

Cancer prevention

Stopping cancer before it becomes cancer Institute of Food Research and UEA scientists, in collaboration with clinicians from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, are developing new ways to screen for changes in the mucus lining the colon that could over decades lead to colorectal cancer. If such early markers for the disease could be detected, nutrition and lifestyle changes could prevent it from actually developing, and this is another focus of the research. Colorectal cancer is responsible for the second highest number of cancer-related deaths in the UK.

Obesity prevention

Walking is an important form of physical activity to help us control our weight, but the distance we walk each year has dropped by over a quarter in the last three decades. Researchers at UEA are investigating the role the environment around us plays in allowing us to be active. They are linking data on the physical activity of individuals with information on features of the environment within which that activity takes place, for example the location of sports facilities, footpath and cycle-track availability, and traffic levels. The work will help tackle the obesity epidemic by helping planners design places so that it is easier for us to be active as part of our everyday lives.

Heart disease prevention

People who consume lots of fruits and vegetables are less likely to suffer from heart disease and strokes. Institute of Food Research scientists are studying how flavonoids in foods contribute to cardiovascular health. In collaboration with European partners, they are investigating if flavonoids in apples can be as effective as aspirin at reducing heart disease risk. In joint projects with UEA (MED) scientists, they are studying how consumption of flavonoids from highly coloured fruits and from soy and cocoa can affect heart disease risk. The research might lead to functional foods rich in flavonoids.

Thursday 4th of October 2007 02:00:52 PM