Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

April 06, 2006

U of G Part of New Canadian Obesity Network

Guelph researchers will play a key role in a new national group intended to help fight a growing epidemic in obesity that threatens the health of millions of Canadians.

The Canadian Obesity Network (CON), one of five new federal Networks of Centres of Excellence announced recently, will bring together researchers, health professionals, industry and policy-makers to study, prevent and reduce the health and economic consequences of excess body weight. It will involve scientists at 21 universities, including researchers from Guelph’s departments of human health and nutritional sciences, food science and family relations and applied nutrition. In addition, more than 10 international institutes in North America and Europe, 15 non-profit organizations and 20 industry partners are involved.

“More than half of the Canadian population is classified as overweight or obese,” said U of G Prof. Terry Graham, chair of the Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences. “What people often lose sight of is that obesity is often associated with many other diseases. There are about two million Canadians with type 2 diabetes. Not only are those numbers increasing, but also the age at which people are developing the disease is decreasing.”

People with type 2 diabetes are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and eye and kidney damage. Obesity also increases the risk of developing several kinds of cancer, added Graham.

Arya Sharma, CON’s scientific director says the network “will provide an urgently needed response to this growing epidemic affecting 18 million obese and overweight Canadians and costing the Canadian health-care system in excess of $4.3 billion annually.”

Guelph will play a “dominant role” in the network through studies of nutrition, metabolism and obesity interactions. “We bring a really multidisciplinary team to the table,” said Graham.

For example, U of G Prof. Arend Bonen, Canada Research Chair in Metabolism and Health, will lead a network team focusing on the role of fat and muscle in obesity. His own studies suggest that hormones and metabolic signals in these tissues in people with excess body weight lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Other U of G scientists involved in the network will draw on longstanding connections with local and campus organizations, from the Guelph Food Technology Centre and Human Nutraceutical Research Unit to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“The biggest Guelph contribution is that we have recognized and encouraged interactions between agriculture, food and human health. No other university around is better positioned in all three,” Graham said.

Far from “curing” obesity, he said, the new network will propose ways to reduce the problem, including health promotion in schools, public dissemination of research results, development of innovative foods and pharmaceuticals, and ideas for the food industry to investigate more healthful products.

He also expects researchers will explore the emerging field of nutrigenomics, or understanding how nutrients interact with individual consumers’ genes and metabolism. Researchers will probably learn more about how human evolution has made people obesity-prone by selecting for genes that enabled our less sedentary ancestors to store energy more efficiently, he said.

Terry Graham
Human Health and Nutritional Sciences
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 56168/

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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