Physical activity reduces the effect of the 'obesity gene'

November 1, 2011, Public Library of Science

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, led by Ruth Loos from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, in Cambridge, UK, and published in this week's PLoS Medicine. The researchers found that the effect of the FTO gene on obesity risk is nearly 30% weaker among physically active than in physically inactive adults.

This finding holds an important public health message relevant to and the wider public as it challenges the widely-held view that obesity 'is in my genes' and not amenable to lifestyle changes. On the contrary, this study shows that even those genetically predisposed can reduce their risk of becoming obese by being physically active.

The authors performed a comprehensive literature search and invited all researchers who had reported on the FTO gene in the past to participate in their study. They used an extensive and innovative methodology to analyze data from over 218,000 adults, to show that, in general, carrying a copy of the FTO gene increases the risk of becoming obese. However, the effect of the on obesity risk was 27% less pronounced in individuals who were physically active (1.22 fold) compared with those who were physically inactive (1.30 fold).

The authors say: "Our findings are highly relevant to public health. They emphasize that physical activity is an effective way of controlling body weight, particularly in individuals with a towards obesity. Thus, they contrast with the determinist view held by many that genetic influences are unmodifiable." The researchers believe that these findings will bring them a step closer to more personalised healthcare by identifying people who will benefit most from a targeted treatment.

In an accompanying Perspective, J. Lennert Veerman from the School of at the University of Queensland in Australia says: "testing for genetic traits that are associated with obesity makes no difference in the advice to overweight persons: increased physical activity and a healthy diet are indicated regardless of the genes." Dr Veerman continues: "A focus on individual genetic traits is a mere distraction and reinforces the popular view of obesity as a problem that individuals have to deal with, rather than one that requires societal action."

Explore further: Researchers discover link between obesity gene and breast cancer

More information: Kilpeläinen TO, Qi L, Brage S, Sharp SJ, Sonestedt E, et al. (2011) Physical Activity Attenuates the Influence of FTO Variants on Obesity Risk: A Meta-Analysis of 218,166 Adults and 19,268 Children. PLoS Med 8(11): e1001116. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001116

Perspective: Veerman JL (2011) On the Futility of Screening for Genes That Make You Fat. PLoS Med 8(11): e1001114. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001114

Related Stories

Researchers discover link between obesity gene and breast cancer

May 23, 2011
New research aimed to better identify the genetic factors that lead to breast cancer has uncovered a link between the fat mass and obesity associated gene (FTO) and a higher incidence of breast cancer. According to the study ...

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

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.