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‘Obesity Genes’ Don’t Affect Weight Loss

October 28, 2016

Recent research indicates that 20 percent of the weight differences between people are caused by “obesity genes” that change the way the brain regulates appetite, but another new study suggests that people with these genes can still leverage various strategies to lose weight.

During the study, published in the journal BMJ, researchers at Newcastle University in England analyzed data from 10,000 people to assess the connection between obesity genes, also called the FTO gene, and weight loss techniques such as diet, exercise and weight loss drugs.

Though people with the gene were slightly heavier than other participants at the beginning of the study, researchers found that carrying the gene had “no detectable effect” on their ability to shed pounds when they leveraged weight loss intervention strategies. Researchers controlled for several factors and found that age, gender, the type of weight loss intervention and how long participants stuck to this regimen had no effect on the study’s outcome.

They said even though some people may be genetically predisposed to obesity, diet, exercise and weight loss drugs all can be effective in helping these individuals maintain a healthy weight.

The study also suggests that screening for the “obesity gene” during a routine clinical exam doesn’t determine weight loss success, meaning that this gene isn’t a predictor of whether an individual’s efforts to lose weight will fail. Essentially, genetics affects your weight, but the lifestyle choices you make play an even greater role in healthy weight management.

The Obesity Crisis

Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. According to government data, nearly 69 percent of U.S. adults are either obese or overweight.

Obesity elevates your risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It also impacts your quality of life. If you already are genetically predisposed to obesity, making healthy lifestyle choices becomes even more critical. One 2014 study, for example, found that people who were genetically more likely to be obese had a higher risk of weight gain and chronic diseases if they regularly consumed fried foods.

Weight loss takes time and consistent effort. Whether or not you carry the FTO gene, exercising is always to your benefit — for better cardiac health and the benefit of your joints and body health.

Exercise is an important component of the weight loss process, especially after bariatric surgery. There’s a common misconception with bariatric surgery that it is the end all, be all of the weight loss process, but it’s really the beginning of a lifestyle transformation. This is true for anyone who is obese or overweight — transforming your lifestyle is the key to maintaining a healthy weight for the rest of your life. And as the study’s authors suggest, public health strategies focused on decreasing obesity need to emphasize “long term improvements in lifestyle behaviors, principally eating patterns and physical activity, since these will be effective in achieving sustained weight loss irrespective of FTO genotype.” So, in the battle of nature vs. nurture, focusing on the latter can help you overcome even the genetic challenges that make weight management a lot tougher.