Obesity: Biological, socio Cultural, and environmental risk Trajectories (OBCT) launches | World Obesity Federation

Obesity: Biological, socio Cultural, and environmental risk Trajectories (OBCT) launches

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­­Press release – November 2023

OBCT - New EU-funded project that will map the environmental, socio-cultural and biological causes of obesity launches.

OBCT, a new Horizon Europe Research and Innovation project, launched this month. The project will investigate the complex and dynamic interplay between biological, sociocultural and environmental risk factors of obesity across the life course in Europe. It will then provide knowledge, maps and tools for health professionals, researchers, policymakers and the public to support the prevention of obesity.

Obesity is, after smoking, one of the world’s most preventable causes of death and more than half of European adults now has overweight, including obesity. As well as obesity being a disease in itself, it also increases the risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes and various forms of cancer. In Europe, overweight and obesity disproportionately affect people and communities with a low socio-economic status.

Prevention of obesity, however, has proven challenging, in part because of the large number of factors that influence why a person has overweight or obesity. Thanks to an EU Horizon grant worth more than €10 million, Jeroen Lakerveld, an epidemiologist at Amsterdam UMC, will be leading a European consortium that will investigate these multifactorial causes of obesity.

"Social and cultural factors play a role in our lifestyle behaviours but so do our genes and the environment in which we live and work. Residents of neighbourhoods are not equally exposed to unhealthy factors: one might have more exposure to unhealthy food outlets and fewer sports facilities than the other. We term this the “obesogenic environment”, an environment that promotes weight gain or prevents weight loss. In a European context, this has never been properly mapped and studied, but we may be able to improve the health of millions of people with it,” says Lakerveld.

Amsterdam UMC is launching the OBCT project, with funding from the Horizon Europe Programme and partners from the UK, Poland, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Spain. The breadth of this European alliance means that the study will analyse data from millions of individuals across Europe.

The project will advance the current understanding of obesity risks and predictors and the role of socio-economic status across the life course. It will also determine the importance of specific obesity-related behaviours to prevent obesity at key life stages, characterise obesity-related cardio-metabolic risk profiles within representative EU countries and determine the potential impact of obesity-related policies on inequality.

Key outputs will include an obesity risk screener, a digital, interactive atlas on the obesogenicity of local administrative units within the EU, tailored recommendations for dietary, physical activity, and sedentary behaviours, and a policy dashboard and toolbox.

"We look at groups of people with different economic, social and cultural backgrounds because what is important to one group might not necessarily be applicable to everyone" says Lakerveld. The results of this long-term study will support researchers, policymakers, and above all health professionals in reducing obesity risk and in turn, achieving the goal of minimizing the prevalence of overweight and obesity across Europe.

The World Obesity Federation, the only global organisation focused exclusively on obesity who are leading the dissemination of the findings from the OBCT project, has welcomed the project. World Obesity’s Senior Policy Advisor, Dr Tim Lobstein said “Obesity is a disease that is influenced by the genes we are born with, the environments in which we live, study and work and so much more. It’s important to better understand how all the contributing factors interact to result in the levels of obesity we see today. We look forward to supporting our fellow OBCT consortium members in ensuring that this research gets into the hands of those who can implement policies and practices that will support our communities”.

About OBCT

OBCT is a 5-year (2023 – 2028) Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Action project. OBCT brings together 12 partners from 8 countries across the European region.

The OBCT Consortium consists of Amsterdam UMC, Erasmus MC, the World Obesity Federation, SWPS University, the European Association for the Study of Obesity, the University of Oslo, Region Hovedstaden - Frederiksberg Hospital, Imperial College London, University of Oulu, the European Coalition for People living with Obesity, the University of Alcalá and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. For further information, please visit the European Commission website.

For more information, please contact the World Obesity Federation.

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