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Research groups in Oxford are using a wide range of approaches to investigate obesity and understand how to prevent and treat it.

A set of weighing scales

Genetic and genomic approaches are helping to identify genetic variants that influence overall levels of adiposity and predispose to obesity as well as influence individual patterns of fat distribution, with a view to identifying potential targets for new therapies. These findings have highlighted the role of adipose tissue and the central nervous system in regulating body weight amongst other areas. The impact of variants is studied in mouse models and in adipose and other cells, helping to elucidate the mechanisms involved in the regulation of energy balance in the body.

Researchers are also studying how patterns of fat distribution – in particular the extent of central or visceral obesity - influence an individual's risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. With bariatric surgery offering metabolic benefits as well as a therapeutic option for obese patients, researchers are exploring the mechanisms triggered by surgery and the role that gut hormones play. The interaction between diet, gut hormones and the brain are also studied. Neuroimmune mechanisms underlying obesity, in particular the interaction between the nervous system and fat cells and the role that macrophages play, is a further area of interest. 

A number of groups looking to develop opportunities for intervention are interested in understanding how behaviour affects the risk of gaining weight and becoming obese. They are investigating a range of interventions to help people loose weight and assessing the different types of support available, including looking at whether interventions in shops and restaurants to change food-purchasing behaviours could improve people's health. Researchers active in this area regularly provide advice to government organisations on public health, obesity and food, and some of their research findings have helped change government policy.

Obesity is a global problem and two large international prospective cohorts led by Oxford researchers – the Mexico City Prospective Study and the China Kadoorie Biobank Study – are being used to understand the association between obesity and other metabolic diseases and the factors causing these conditions in non-UK populations.

Clinical research in the area includes studies on the impact of obesity on the cardiovascular system. Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy are the main approaches used to explore the impact of obesity, and also bariatric surgery on heart metabolism and function. 

The Obesity, Diet and Lifestyle theme within the Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre supports clinical research in many of these areas.