7 October 2009

UNIK: New research strategy for lifestyle related diseases

Through a UNIK grant of 120 million kroner from the Science Ministry, the University of Copenhagen will open its largest ever cross-disciplinary research initiative: Food, Fitness and Farma, a programme aimed at understanding, preventing and treating lifestyle illnesses.

Lifestyle related diseases threaten globally

Over the last 10-20 years, the number of cases of obesity and diabetes-2 has risen dramatically. The WHO considers obesity-related illnesses to be one of the world's biggest health problems. Obesity and diabetes-2 do not just reduce the quality of life but also dramatically increase the risk of serious health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases. The social and economic consequences of the obesity epidemic are therefore enormous.


Several researchers at the University of Copenhagen are now cooperating on a large-scale, cross-disciplinary research initiative called Food, Fitness and Farma in order to collect new information about the causes of lifestyle related diseases and to develop new methods of treating and preventing these illnesses.

Groundbreaking cooperation

Food, Fitness and Farma is being funded by a 5-year UNIK grant of 120 million kroner from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. UNIK grants were created in 2008 as a new instrument offered to Danish universities made available through open competition.


- "We're talking about a groundbreaking new form of cooperation where scientists from 17 departments and faculties work together in completely new synergy-promoting constellations and with cross-disciplinary angles of attack," said Thue W. Schwartz, professor of molecular pharmacology.


- "With this new cooperation, we can for instance focus on getting data from the socio-economic and food industry technology areas to interact with data from the biomedical areas, such as genetics, epidemiology, muscle physiology, pharmacology and liposuction," said Schwartz, who will lead the new research initiative.

The fruits of a successful merger

In addition to research groups from the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences - which were integrated into the University of Copenhagen through the University amalgamation of 2007 - Food, Fitness and Farma will include scientists from the Health Sciences, Social Sciences and Law faculties working in collaboration.


"This unique cooperation and the 120 million kroner grant are the fruits of a very successful amalgamation process, where we created the framework for and the proximity between many research disciplines. By gathering the various researchers together we've not only created the basis for unique innovation, but this concrete cooperation also increases the possibilities for attracting large national and international research grants, where cross-disciplinary work is today an inevitable requirement," said Ralf Hemmingsen, Rector of the University of Copenhagen.

Invitation to the press

Food, Fitness and Farma will be introduced at an arrangement to be held at the University of Copenhagen on Friday, 9 October at 14:00. The inauguration of the programme will take place at Dam Auditorium at the Panum Institute, Blegdamsvej 3B. The media is welcome to attend with a valid press card.

Facts on obesity:

The risk of developing diabetes-2 is extremely high for obese people, as is the risk for cardiovascular diseases, strokes, hypertension, gall stones, osteoarthritis, respiratory problems and cancer. In addition, obese people are subject to a number of prejudices that result in discrimination on the job market for adults and the bullying of obese children at school. Nonetheless, the number of obese people continues to rise and, if the trend continues, there will be nearly 300,000 people who are unhealthily overweight in Denmark. Almost just as many will suffer from diabetes-2 without even knowing it.


It is estimated that there are around 1 billion overweight people worldwide and 300 million who are obese. Particularly disturbing is that the obesity epidemic hits children especially hard - globally as well as in Denmark, where every fifth young person is today overweight.

Facts about Food, Fitness and Farma

Food, Fitness and Farma will study health beneficial foods, optimize recommendations for physical activity and diets, find new and more effective strategies for lifestyle changes, and create the basis for new and better medicines. The research can be broken down into four main categories:

  • Food items and the intestinal pathway - to study the release of hormones in relation to foods and diets, and also as a platform for the development of new medicines that can resemble the results from diabetes-2 effective obesity surgery.
  • Muscles and physical activity - to find and characterize the mechanisms behind the beneficial effects of exercise on one's health.
  • Genetics and epidemiology - to find the hereditary causes of why some people have a greater risk of becoming obese or contracting diabetes-2.
  • Socioeconomics and psychology - to determine and link the causes of unhealthy lifestyles with individuals' difficulties in breaking unhealthy habits and look into the historical, prevailing and ethical aspects of social efforts to regulate lifestyles.