[THE FOUNTAIN] Obesity and the Genome Project

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[THE FOUNTAIN] Obesity and the Genome Project

The world population of overweight persons has reached 1.2 billion, reaching for the first time the same number as the part of the population suffering from malnutrition last year. World Watch Magazine, published by an international environmental organization, made the report last March based on a statistical analysis comparing weight and height. According to the magazine, in the United States, 55 percent of the adult population is overweight, and one out of five children show symptoms of obesity. In Brazil, 36 percent of the national population is overweight, so is 41 percent in Columbia, the same level as developed countries in Western Europe.

How about Korea? According to Professor Moon Ok-ryun of the Graduate School of Public Health at Seoul National University, 33 percent of the adult population in Korea is overweight.

Obesity is one of the leading causes of disease in adults. It is no wonder that the diet industry has become widely successful throughout the world.

Moderate eating and normal weight are closely connected with longevity. In the early 1990s, the University of Liverpool and the University of Sheffield in England conducted experiments on mice and rabbits. When the amount of feed was decreased by 30 percent, the average life span was increased by 42 percent. The animals fed lightly were more active and energetic compared to the group on a normal diet. The incidence of cancer was also much lower. Currently, experiments with monkey are going on in the United States, and a preliminary report shows promising effects so far. It is good news for humans, but it is also problematic for the overweight because light eating is especially difficult for them.

A researcher at Rockefeller University in New York specializing in the study of obesity says dieting by the overweight often ends in failure. According to his report, some overweight persons on diets lost half their body weight but lived in misery. After two to five years, all regained what they had lost.

Regarding such reports, the recently announced map of human genome may lead to hope. The research has mapped 90 percent of the 3 billion base pairs of human genes with 99.9 percent accuracy. The second step in the human genome project is deciphering the functions of 100,000 human genes in which thousands of those base pairs are combined. It is only a matter of time before the genes causing obesity are found; they have already been found in mice. Experts believe that advanced technologies of genetic treatment, in which people can eat as much as they want without gaining weight, will be part of our life within 20 to 30 years. Until then, the overweight have to wait, control their diets and exercise.

by Cho Hyun-wook

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