Don’t Blame The ‘Obesity Gene’ If You Can’t Lose Weight

We all know the huge role genetics play in our health and weight. Our DNA impacts everything, from how we break down calories to where we store fat and the likelihood of obesity.

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However, new research suggests that your genes are not to blame for your inability to lose weight. Wait… what? 

Let’s look at the facts. Obesity-related genes account for around three per cent of the differences amongst people’s body mass index (BMI), with one of these in particular — FTO genetic mutation — believe to be most influential. First identified in 2007, this gene is associated with being heavier, and has thus been misleadingly dubbed the “obesity gene.”

However, blaming a single genetic mutation for obesity had researchers rather skeptical, so they sought to find out to what extent the FTO gene affected weight loss efforts (if at all).

“We think this is good news — carrying the high risk [form of the gene] makes you more likely to be a bit heavier, but it shouldn’t prevent you from losing weight.”

The research from Newcastle University, which as published in BMJ, had collected data from 9,000 people enrolled in more than 11 different studies to see how the FTO mutation affected weight loss.

The participants, some of whom had the gene and others who did not, were all assigned to random different weight loss methods, including diet, exercise and weight-loss drugs.

Researchers wanted to know: Would it be harder for those with the FTO gene to lose weight?

Surprisingly, the answer was no. At the end of the study, the FTO gene was found to have made no difference when it came to the amount of weight lost, no matter what weight-loss method they used.

Lead author John Mathers told Time, “We think this is good news — carrying the high risk [form of the gene] makes you more likely to be a bit heavier but it shouldn’t prevent you from losing weight. That should encourage people.”

Though the study failed to explain exactly how the obesity gene contributes to weight, researchers think it may have something to do with appetite and people’s feelings of fullness,  rather than an inherent predisposition to keeping weight on.

In the end, however, the findings seem to “reinforce some very straight forward public health messages,” says Mathers.

“No magic genes change anything in that respect. You have to bite the bullet, and eat a bit less, or be more active [to maintain a healthy weight].”