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Metabolic syndrome: what is it and what are the implications?

  • D. I. Shaw (a1), W. L. Hall (a1) and C. M. Williams (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 07 March 2007

Obesity and overweight are linked with a cluster of metabolic and vascular disorders that have been termed the metabolic syndrome. Although there is not yet a universally-accepted set of diagnostic criteria, most expert groups agree that the syndrome is characterised by impaired insulin sensitivity and hyperglycaemia, dyslipidaemia (elevated blood triacyglycerols with depressed HDL-cholesterol), abdominal obesity and hypertension. Based on existing published criteria estimates suggest that the syndrome affects a substantial percentage of the middle-aged and elderly populations of most European countries (10–20%) and confers increased risk of type 2 diabetes (2–8.8-fold) and CVD (1.5–6-fold), as well as having a marked effect on morbidity. Although the pathophysiology is incompletely understood, insulin resistance and abdominal obesity are central to subsequent abnormalities in circulating glucose and lipoproteins, and vascular function that lead to type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and CVD. The link between metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and CVD, as well as inability to reverse the present rising rates of obesity, will lead to economically-unsustainable costs of health care in the next 10–20 years. Preventative strategies for metabolic syndrome are required to slow rates of progression and to reduce dependence on costly medical management. A notable development is recent evidence that shows that diet and exercise are more effective than drug treatment in preventing the development of type-2 diabetes in high-risk individuals. The LIPGENE project will investigate dietary fat quality as a strategy for the prevention of metabolic syndrome and identify food chain approaches that can support consumer attempts to alter their dietary patterns.

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*Corresponding author: Ms D. Shaw, fax + 44 118 9318703,
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