In my practice, I often talk about the genetic predisposition to obesity.
Modern science has now identified over 100 genes that are associated with obesity, with each of these genes contributing a pound or two to the overall weight struggle. So if a person has a high number of these ‘bad’ genes, they will have a bigger struggle with obesity, and a higher ‘set point’ of body weight, than someone who has only a few of these genes. This can seem like a huge bummer – you can’t change your genes (side bar: well actually you can but not in a good way – that’s a story for another day) – so does this mean that the efforts to lose weight are hopeless?
The answer is, no. Even for people who have more of the obesity-engendering genes, it is possible to lose weight, though a realistic weight goal will likely be higher than someone who has less obesity engendering genes. In addition, a new study sheds light on gene-environment interactions in obesity, teaching us that certain behaviours can modify the effect of our genes on our body weight.
The study, published in PLOS Genetics, looked at gene-environment interactions for body mass index, using a large database of over 350,000 Caucasian people from the UK Biobank. They found 15 lifestyle factors that influence our genes’ effects on body weight, including:
- alcohol intake frequency
- usual walking pace
- socioeconomic status
- number of days per week of physical activity lasting at least 10 minutes
- time spent watching TV
- frequency of climbing stairs
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