Healthy lifestyle can counteract obesity gene

By Tiffany Wilson, UF Health Jacksonville • Published: June 25th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

We all have that friend who seems to get away with eating all the fried food she wants, and never gains weight.

Now a Harvard University study proves what you may have suspected all along: It’s just not fair. Genetics play a role in the body’s response to weight gain triggers from fried food.

The study, which reviewed data from three U.S. trials, found that people with a high genetic risk for obesity saw double the negative effects.

For those who carry the so-called obesity genes, body mass index, or BMI, was 1 unit higher in women and .7 units higher in men when they ate fried food more than four times a week. Individuals with a low genetic risk for obesity saw only a .4 unit increase in BMI over their healthier-eating counterparts.

Researchers said there isn’t just one gene that makes us more susceptible to obesity. There are dozens of them, and the more obesity-prone genes a person has, the higher the risk.

The good news? A healthy lifestyle can counteract these genes. The researchers found that some of the 37,000 study participants carried obesity genes, but were not overweight. Those participants reported healthier diets low in fried foods.

Obesity-prone genes are nothing new in the human body, and in fact most people have at least some of them, the study’s authors said. But changes in the way our modern culture lives and eats have made obesity an epidemic. They pointed out the ready availability of processed and fried foods, lack of physical activity in most workplaces, and the onset of sedentary activities like watching TV and using computers.

Finding out who is genetically at a higher risk of becoming obese could be a huge step in our nation’s fight against obesity. Researchers hope to use genetics to help obesity-prone patients make lifestyle choices that will stop dangerous weight gain before it even begins.