'Obesity genes' may influence food choices, eating patterns

May 23, 2012

Blame it on your genes? Researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center say individuals with variations in certain "obesity genes" tend to eat more meals and snacks, consume more calories per day and often choose the same types of high fat, sugary foods.

Their study, published online by the and appearing in the June issue, reveals certain variations within the FTO and BDNF – which have been previously linked to obesity – may play a role in that can cause obesity.

The findings suggest it may be possible to minimize genetic risk by changing one's eating patterns and being vigilant about food choices, in addition to adopting other healthy lifestyle habits, like regular physical activity.

"Understanding how our genes influence obesity is critical in trying to understand the current obesity epidemic, yet it's important to remember that genetic traits alone do not mean obesity is inevitable," said lead author Jeanne M. McCaffery, Ph.D., of The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Research Center.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Researchers from The Miriam Hospital say individuals with variations in certain “obesity genes” tend to eat more meals and snacks, consume more calories per day and often choose the same types of high fat, sugary foods. Credit: Lifespan/the Miriam Hospital

"Our lifestyle choices are critical when it comes to determining how thin or heavy we are, regardless of your genetic traits," she added. "However, uncovering genetic markers can possibly pinpoint future interventions to control obesity in those who are genetically predisposed."

Previous research has shown individuals who carry a variant of the fat mass and obesity-associated gene FTO and BDNF (or brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene) are at increased risk for obesity. The genes have also been linked with overeating in children and this is one of the first studies to extend this finding to adults. Both FTO and BDNF are expressed in the part of the brain that controls eating and appetite, although the mechanisms by which these gene variations influence obesity is still unknown.

As part of the Look AHEAD (Action in Health and Diabetes) trial, more than 2,000 participants completed a questionnaire about their eating habits over the past six months and also underwent geneotyping. Researchers focused on nearly a dozen genes that have been previously associated with obesity. They then examined whether these genetic markers influenced the pattern or content of the participants' diet.

Variations in the FTO gene specifically were significantly associated with a greater number of meals and per day, greater percentage of energy from fat and more servings of fats, oils and sweets. The findings are largely consistent with previous research in children.

Researchers also discovered that individuals with BDNF variations consumed more servings from the dairy and the meat, eggs, nuts and beans food groups. They also consumed approximately 100 more , which McCaffery notes could have a substantial influence on one's weight.

"We show that at least some of the genetic influence on obesity may occur through patterns of dietary intake," she said. "The good news is that eating habits can be modified, so we may be able to reduce one's genetic risk for obesity by changing these eating patterns."

McCaffery says that while this research greatly expands their knowledge on how genetics may influence , the data must be replicated before the findings can be translated into possible clinical measures.

Explore further: Physical activity reduces the effect of the 'obesity gene'

Related Stories

Physical activity reduces the effect of the 'obesity gene'

November 1, 2011

The genetic predisposition to obesity due to the 'fat mass and obesity associated' (FTO) gene can be substantially reduced by living a physically active lifestyle according to new research by a large international collaboration, ...

Recommended for you

A metabolic master switch underlying human obesity

August 19, 2015

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Affecting more than 500 million people worldwide, obesity costs at least $200 billion each year in the United States alone, and contributes to potentially ...

Scientists probe obesity's ties to breast cancer risk

August 20, 2015

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer, but researchers haven't figured out what connects the two. A new study suggests the link may be due to a change in breast tissue structure, which might promote breast ...

Can a new drug brown the fat and trim the obese person?

May 28, 2015

New research has found that a variant of a drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension prompts weight loss in obese mice. Among mice fed a high-fat diet, those who did not get the medication became obese while medicated ...

Changing stem cell structure may help fight obesity

February 17, 2015

The research, conducted at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), found that a slight regulation in the length of primary cilia, small hair-like projections found on most cells, prevented the production of fat cells from ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.