ANALYSIS – At a meeting held at the University of Nottingham in the UK last week, Professor Mike Gibney helped sort fact from the fiction in terms of the growing problem of human obesity, writes Jackie Linden, and Professor Natalie Warans offered some solutions to achieving the sometimes conflicting aims of improving animal welfare and feeding an increasing human population.
Obesity is one of today's leading human health issues but it is a complex issue, often oversimplified in the media. At a meeting held at the University of Nottingham in the UK last week, Professor Mike Gibney helped sort fact from the fiction.
Speaking to a packed auditorium at the annual meeting of the British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) and the UK branch of the World’s Poultry Science Association (WPSA), Professor Gibney put obesity in the human population into its correct perspective as a modern human health issue. Having started his career in animal nutrition, he now heads the University College Dublin (UCD) Institute of Food and Health in the Irish Republic and so he was in an exceptional position to present the Hammond Memorial Lecture at the Nottingham meeting.
A number of key issues need to be addressed in the context of any long-term approach to this public health issue, he explained. The current increase in the levels of obesity is, in fact, neither recent in origin nor linear in form. Physical activity at moderate levels can abate most, if not all, of the risk factors arising from obesity such as diabetes and hypertension, he said. There is a genetic component of obesity but it has been shown to be related to a number of risk alleles, rather than individual genes; obesity and over-weight are strongly heritable. One issue that has complicated the whole field of obesity is significant under-reporting of food intake, he said.
The latest data show a levelling off in obesity rates among children and adolescents in Australia, Europe, Japan and the US. This good news must be viewed, however, in light of a continuing rise in adults in Europe and Australia, and a high but stable situation in American adults.
Discussing how we can maintain animal welfare standards whilst producing food for a growing human population was the theme of a paper presented by Professor Natalie Waran of the University of Edinburgh at the same meeting.
She explained how mass production has been used to increase output but that sometimes, this may lead to poorer welfare standards, making the situation a conflicting issue.
In order to help solve some of the issues, Professor Waran examined in moe details the four R's: Reduction, Refinement, Replacement and Responsibility.
Turning to bird flu news, 11 outbreaks of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian flu have been reported so far this year in Bhutan, involving more than 7,000 birds, and the Taiwanese authorities have found the low-pathogenic form of the duck in a commercial duck flock during routine surveillance. Investigations are underway in Thailand into the cause of death of hundreds of wild storks in the Ang Thong region of the Central Gulf Coast in the south of the country, sparking fears that it may be bird flu although this has not been confirmed. From Nepal has come news that farmers who lose poultry from bird flu outbreaks are to receive compensation in order to encourage them to report possible cases.