MRC Announces New Study to Identify Best Diets to Reduce Heart Disease

The Medical Research Council today announced the launch of a landmark study to identify the best dietary strategies to reduce heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

The results of the study will be used to inform public health policy for the prevention of heart disease, and may provide valuable information to enable food producers and manufacturers reformulate their products to make them healthier and to develop new foods.

The £2.7m four-year study, one of the largest of its kind in the world, is funded by the Food Standards Agency and led by MRC Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge (MRC-HNR), who will work with scientists at Imperial College London (Imperial), Kings College London (KCL), University of Reading (Reading) and University of Surrey (Surrey).

The research team will look at the impact of changes in the amount and composition of fat and carbohydrate on the chances of developing a collection of risk factors linked to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

The global incidence of these risk factors, collectively known as the Metabolic Syndrome, is soaring. They include obesity, raised blood pressure and abnormal blood fat levels and affect up to a quarter of adults in the UK.

In most cases, development of the Metabolic Syndrome is caused by eating too much of the wrong kind of foods and taking too little exercise. People who eat food rich in saturated fat found in meat and dairy products, tend to be at greater risk of developing the Metabolic Syndrome, but less is known about foods that may help to reduce the risk.

Lead researcher, Dr Susan Jebb, Head of Nutrition and Health Research at MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge, said:

“There is some evidence that the amount and quality of fat and carbohydrate in the diet can modify some features of the Metabolic Syndrome. Current dietary guidelines aim to reduce the levels of saturated fat in the diet, but many questions remain unanswered. This research will use a series of detailed tests to investigate what happens to the health of hundreds of people when diets are manipulated to change the fat and carbohydrate content. This will help to build evidence on which dietary recommendations to reduce the risk of the metabolic syndrome can be based.”

Tom Murray, Head of Nutrition at the Food Standards Agency, said:

“The results of the ground-breaking piece of research being co-ordinated by the MRC for the Food Standards Agency should enable us to give clearer advice to the public on consumption of fats and carbohydrates.”



1.The clinical conditions linked to the metabolic syndrome are obesity, type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood fats and raised blood pressure. Each of these conditions is a risk factor for the metabolic syndrome in its own right, but if individuals have more than one of these conditions the risk is multiplied.

2.The study will involve 650 volunteers in total, 130 at each of five participating centres.

3.Foods for the study have been provided by Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, Unilever Health Institute, Cereal Partners UK and Rank Hovis

4.The Food Standards Agency is an independent food safety watchdog set up by an Act of Parliament in 2000 to protect the public’s health and consumer interests in relation to food. Website:

The centres taking part:

The Medical Research Council (MRC)

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a national organisation funded by the UK tax-payer. Its business is medical research aimed at improving human health; everyone stands to benefit from the outputs. The research is supports and the scientists it trains meet the needs of the health services, the pharmaceutical and other health-related industries and the academic world. MRC has funded work that has led to some of the most significant UK discoveries and achievements in medicine. About half of the MRC’s expenditure of over £413 million is invested in its 40 Institutes, Units and Centres, where it employs its own research staff. The remainder goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools. Website:

MRC Human Nutrition Research was launched in October 1998 to take forward the MRC’s research portfolio in strategic and applied nutrition. It conducts research into issues of national and international priority through partnership with other academic groups, government, industry and others to advance scientific understanding of the relationships between nutrition and health. It promotes evidence-based nutrition in public health policy and practice. HNRs scientific programme is based around the influence of diet and lifestyle on chronic diseases. The HNR portfolio is rooted in applied nutrition and is focussed predominantly around the role of nutrition in vascular disease, obesity and its metabolic co-morbidities, osteoporosis and other chronic ailments. In addition, it acts as an independent, authoritative source of scientific advice and information for government, industry, health professionals and the media. Website:

Imperial College London

Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (10,000) and staff (5,000) of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture. Website:

King's College London

King's College London is one of the oldest and largest colleges of the University of London with 13,800 undergraduate students and some 5,300 postgraduates in ten schools of study. The College had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level. King's is in the top group of five universities for research earnings with income from grants and contracts of more than £93 million (2002-2003) and has an annual turnover of £320 million. King's is a member of the Russell Group, a coalition of the UK's major research-based universities. Website:

The University of Reading

The University of Reading is a globally renowned research and teaching institution with around 15,000 students and 4,000 staff. It is one of the top 20 research universities in the UK. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 15 departments were awarded an RAE rating of 5, and five departments were designated 5*. The University consistently achieves well in the National Quality Assurance Agency teaching standards assessments, with many departments scoring 23 or 24 points, out of the 24. Website:

The University of Surrey

The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s leading professional, scientific and technological universities with a world-class research profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Since 1997, the University of Surrey has held its place at the top of The Sunday Times league tables as the UK University, which is 'top for jobs'. Groundbreaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space science, the environment, communications, defence and social policy. Programmes in science and technology have gained widespread recognition and it also boasts flourishing programmes in dance and music, social sciences, management and languages and law. In addition to the campus on 150 hectares just outside Guildford, Surrey, the University also owns and runs the Surrey Research Park, which provides facilities for 110 companies employing 2,700 staff.

The School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences has more than 1000 students studying for undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees. It is highly active in biomedical research and has received recognition as an international centre of excellence. It received a 5** rating in the 2001 RAE as part of its submission with colleagues in the PGMS (Subjects Allied to Medicine). Its research areas include biomaterials, analytical/chemical biology, microbial sciences, toxicology and pharmacology, nutrition and food safety, neuropharmacology, human chronobiology/ psychopharmacology and sleep. By 2004 over £7m investment will have been made particularly into Functional Genomics, Proteomics and its Neuroscience capacity. These investments ensure that the School successfully continues its mission to seek to improve human health through the provision of high quality teaching, training and research. Website:

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