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In The News: Obesity & Genetics

I’m slightly weary of how the mainstream media will present the latest findings in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinoloy & Metabolism.

To summarize, researchers at University College in London and the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, discovered that children with the FTO gene – a gene associated with obesity — “are less likely to have their appetite ‘switched off’ by eating.”

Furthermore, “previous studies have shown that adults with two copies of the FTO gene are on average 3kg [6.6 lbs] heavier, and individuals with a single copy are on average 1.5kg [3.3 lbs] heavier, than those without the gene.”

What is important to keep in mind with this study and others similar to it is that the presence of this gene simply indicates “susceptability to overeating.”

In other words, making smart food choices is crucial, no matter what your genetic makeup. A predisposition should not be turned into a self-fulfilling life sentence.

I hope you are starting to see how a lot of the topics discussed on this blog feed into each other (pardon the pun.)

Think about the following.

It’s a known fact that when supersize portions are placed in front of us, we are likely to eat until the last bite simply because the food is there, inches away from our hands, eyes, and mouth.

Restaurant entrées containing upwards of 2,000 calories are not unheard of these days.

Place that factor within the framework of someone with an altered hunger mechanism and I’m sure you see the problem: they are even more likely to finish their plate, whether it packs in 800 or 3,000 calories.

Individual choices do play an important role, though. Regardless of their genetic predisposition, anyone can choose to accompany their meal with a 150 calorie side dish of brown rice or a 400 calorie side dish of onion rings.

Genes in and of themselves do not make anyone obese. It is the combination of dietary patterns and behaviors along with these genetic conditions that ultimately determine the outcome.

After all, our genes are the same now as 50 years ago, when obesity rates in the United States were approximately 65% lower than they are today.

Here’s hoping an overeager newscaster won’t soon be stating, “Why some people just can’t help being obese! All that and more tonight at eleven.”

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7 Comments

  1. Anonymous said on July 28th, 2008

    Great. Now all the fatties are going to say they have this gene as an excuse for their laziness and overeating.

  2. Anonymous said on July 29th, 2008

    Hey Andy
    Have fun with this article:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121728720696791385.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_today

    Shocked by the article and by anonymous up there.

    AMR

  3. Andy Bellatti said on July 29th, 2008

    “Great. Now all the fatties are going to say they have this gene as an excuse for their laziness and overeating.”

    Well aren’t you the open-minded type? Have you considered that, if anything, knowledge of this gene might cause people to become more aware of their eating habits?

  4. Joshua said on July 29th, 2008

    “Regardless of their genetic predisposition, anyone can choose to accompany their meal with a 150 calorie side dish of brown rice or a 400 calorie side dish of onion rings.”

    Ah, but how likely are they to choose that? Would not the predisposition affect how much people feel like eating fatty or sweet foods?

  5. Andy Bellatti said on July 29th, 2008

    Joshua, there is no reason to believe that this gene predisposes people to prefer fatty or overly sweet foods.

    This is more about the fact that the “switch” that lets most people know they are full isn’t quite as effective.

    You are right that many people may not instinctively know (or go for) lower-calorie options.

    This is why nutrition education is so important. To this day, I am amazed at the number of people I meet in their 40s and 50s who never tried certain foods because they sound “healthy and disgusting,” only to then try them and say, “Wow, this is good!”

  6. Anonymous said on August 4th, 2008

    Here’s hoping an overeager newscaster won’t soon be stating, “Why some people just can’t help being obese! All that and more tonight at eleven.

    Yes. Because it would be just awful if we stopped shaming people for being a different size.

  7. Andy Bellatti said on August 4th, 2008

    No, anonymous, because it would be just awful for people to be told erroneous information about a report that is NOT claiming obesity is “inevitable,” but rather that some people have a harder time recognizing when they are full.

    I don’t like labeling people as powerless or victims of life. Empowering people with information and choices is much healthier — and helpful.

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