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How “Obesity Genes” Affect Your Weight

May 07, 2015

Are some people destined to be overweight? According to one recent study, the answer may be yes.

The study, published in the journal Nature, indicated that about 20 percent of the weight differences between people are caused by “obesity genes” that change the way the brain regulates your appetite. It’s common knowledge that genetics influence a lot of our physiology, whether it’s our weight or risk for certain diseases. However, this study suggests that genes may affect the body in other ways when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.

Still, this doesn’t mean that people should give in to unhealthy eating habits or lifestyle choices. You still can do something beneficial to regulate your weight and stay healthy, even if you are genetically predisposed to being overweight—you just may need to work a little bit harder at it.

Genetics & Obesity

Researchers involved in the study were surprised to discover such a powerful link between genes in the brain and obesity. They discovered that for some people it is more difficult to eat in moderation and to give up vices like smoking and drinking.

This is because a combination of specific gene variants make some people more likely to be overweight. The study found that individual genes in and of themselves had less of an impact on weight than the cumulative effect of these genes put together. A person with 104 high-risk gene variants was on average heavier than someone with only 78 of them.

Some people also may be predisposed to gaining weight in their mid-section, which is especially concerning because excess weight in that area puts you at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many other illnesses.

But the study also had a silver lining: even people with more “obesity genes” can maintain a healthy weight by eating right and exercising regularly. And though some gene variants may increase your likelihood of being overweight, they also may protect the body against certain diseases, suggesting that some people may be overweight but still healthy.

What You Can Do

Genetics and making the right lifestyle choices go hand in hand when it comes to weight. For example, one 2014 study found that people who were genetically predisposed to obesity had a higher risk of weight gain and chronic diseases if they regularly consumed fried foods.

What you eat is just as important as your genetic makeup. If you have a high risk of being overweight, it is critical that you maintain a healthy diet filled with whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins and avoid fried foods and those with high levels of saturated fat and sodium.

Even though the study indicates that it’s possible for some people to be overweight and healthy, that rule doesn’t apply to the majority of the population. Carrying excess weight does increase your risk for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, so the only way to make sure your levels are in the right range is to regularly test your blood pressure and cholesterol, among other things. On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t have free reign to eat whatever you want if you are genetically less likely to be obese. In the same way that someone can be overweight and healthy, it’s just as likely that people who are normal weight can be at risk for certain chronic ailments if they don’t make changes to their diet.

“Obesity” genes or not, everyone should follow this basic rule: eat healthy, exercise, drink plenty of water and don’t smoke. These four simple steps usually lead to good health.