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Collaboration necessary to end childhood obesity

Professor Peter Bergsten together with research nurse Marie Dahlbom (left) and paediatrician Anders Forslund (right).

How can we put an end to increasing obesity in children? That was the topic of this year’s Uppsala Health Summit in October. One of the participants was Peter Bergsten, Professor of Medical Cell Biology, who is leading an EU initiative to find new ways of treating and preventing childhood obesity.

As many as one in five children in Sweden have major weight problems, which lead to complications such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease already at a young age. The EU project “BetaJUDO” studies what is happening in children at the cellular level.

“It’s not just about how many calories we’re eating. A wide variety of conditions determine the result of the calorie equation in an individual, whether it is positive or negative”, says Peter Bergsten.

Researchers have studied how fatty acids in the blood vary among children with obesity and overweight compared with normal-weight children.

“High levels of fatty acids may be a contributing factor to certain people developing obesity already at a young age. Some of the kids we meet at Uppsala University Children’s Hospital are as young as three years old.”

An important part of the work in “BetaJUDO” is to find new ways to treat children. By testing a certain pharmaceutical principle on cells in the laboratory, researchers have identified a medication that causes insulin-producing beta cells to function normally again.

“The medication is currently being tested by 44 kids with obesity in Uppsala and Salzburg while research is being conducted on the cells in the laboratory”, says Peter Bergsten. “The study will conclude in September and the results will begin to be analysed.”

One basis for this work has been a close collaboration with pediatrician Anders Forslund in particular at Uppsala University Children’s Hospital. The researchers are also studying what happens at the beginning of life while in utero. Already there, the environment can be more or less healthy for the growing fetus and more knowledge will make it possible to take action early.

The rise in obesity has involved decision-makers in Sweden, at the European level and even in the WHO, which published a report in February with a strategy to end childhood obesity.

Ending childhood obesity was also the topic for Uppsala Health Summit 2016, which was held on 11–12 October. Professor Peter Bergsten has been a member of the programme committee and led a workshop about ECHO zones, where different actors cooperate to treat and prevent childhood obesity.

ECHO zones have been launched in Sri Lanka with positive results and a similar approach is being used in South Africa, in cooperation with Peter Bergsten and his research group.

“We also wanted to forge new local contacts att Uppsala Health Summit. If we build a network of politicians, health finance officers and researchers we can create an ECHO zone here in Uppsala”, says Peter Bergsten.

He saw the summit as an opportunity to gather the entire breadth of players who can help impact the health situation of children.

“This is a complex field and a lot of players will need to reach a consensus. The goal is for us to provide children with an environment that gives them opportunities to live a healthy life.”

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FACTS: Ending Childhood Obesity

Ending Childhood Obesity was the theme of Uppsala Health Summit 2016 on 11–12 October. The meeting is organised annually by Uppsala University in collaboration with several different players.

2016-11-03