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Tackling obesity and diabetes in an ageing population

Researchers within the ARCHA ‘Metabolism Research Cluster’ are currently examining how metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes affect the ageing process at a cellular level

12 April 2012

Most scientific estimates suggest that the proportion of the UK’s population aged over 65 will significantly increase over the course of the next 20 years. This presents the government and society as a whole with health, economic and social challenges to cope with this huge demographic change. The issues are so great that 2012 has been designated the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations and is also the 10th anniversary of the UN action plan on ageing.

The Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing (ARCHA) based at Aston University in Birmingham is tackling these issues. ARCHA’s Dr James Brown explains how an older population might be affected by changes to metabolism: “Alongside this increase in the oldest members of society we are also expecting to see a startling increase in the number of obese and diabetic individuals. This introduces a puzzling conundrum: if our society is getting fatter and ‘more diabetic’, are we actually going to see a generation of people who do not live as long as their parents?”

Diabetes currently affects approximately 4.5% of the population, whereas one in four is now obese. These figures have tripled in the past 20 years and show how society has changed in terms of lifestyle, particularly in the areas of diet and exercise. Dr Brown continues: “Although the risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes does increase with age, younger people are now also being diagnosed with the disease, meaning that they will spend many years as a diabetic individual. This has significant implications for NHS spending.”

Researchers within the ARCHA ‘Metabolism Research Cluster’ are currently examining how metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes affect the ageing process at a cellular level with the aims of:

  • Identifying biomarkers of ageing in healthy and metabolically challenged individuals
  • Promoting lifestyle changes that can not only affect metabolism, but also the rate at which one ages
  • Assessing the importance of body composition and how body fat storage is a factor in the ageing process
  • Identifying medicines that can improve the ageing process in diabetics
  • Identify factors that will enable frailty detection in older people with diabetes.

Included in the Centre’s ongoing studies is a cross-sectional study - organised by Dr Brown and Dr Srikanth Bellary - where 150 healthy volunteers, 150 obese individuals and 150 type 2 diabetics are having their body composition measured to see if fat deposits can affect cellular ageing (as measured by a marker of ageing, known as telomere length). It is hoped that this pilot study will feed into a longer and larger prospective study in the future.

Find out more about the work of the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing. The Centre is always looking for volunteers who are over 50 to take part in a variety of studies across different disciplines of health-related research.

For further information about how you can get involved please call Wendy Overton on 0121 204 4134 for an informal chat (or email her at w.g.overton@aston.ac.uk).



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