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Obesity: Are your genes to blame?

By Rachael Bell

In 2021, we are no strangers to epidemics, but have you heard of “globesity?” You probably have read titles on the news such as “Rising Obesity in the United States is a Public Health Crisis”, “Controlling the global obesity epidemic”, “Obesity Epidemic ‘Astronomical’”. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study that found almost 40% of the global population to be overweight and 13% to be obese. They report cases of obesity have tripled since 1975, which is a shocking reality check. There appears to be a strong correlation with affluence and obesity as countries who are more developed have the highest percentages of obese adults. Some scientists propose it is due to our modern lifestyle: foods higher in sugar and fat and more stationary activities (vehicle transportation, working from home, more time spent online). But is it all the environment, or are there other contributing factors to this global health crisis? The argument of nature vs nurture is an age-long discussion, however there may be some evidence stacked for the genetics side of the debate.

It has long been held that most cases of obesity are preventable, but as scientists started to gain a better understanding of the human genome, they found this may not always be the case. Gene-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified certain genes that may be associated with the risk of developing obesity, and there is one that stands out in particular. The FTO gene may be the most studied obesity-related gene, and carrying an at risk variant or two may increase your chances of becoming obese by up to 1.7 times. It is found on our 16th chromosome and plays a role in regulating metabolism. Researchers began by studying mice, and found that mice with the FTO gene tended to eat more than those without the FTO gene. In humans there is a strong correlation between a high BMI and variants of the FTO gene, and one study found that children with these variants tended to consume more calories from fat compared to children without the FTO variants.

While it is true that obesity is a complex issue that involves caloric intake, environment, lifestyle, activity, and psychology, genes are definitely a contributing factor. But just because one has a genetic predisposition does not mean that it is their fate. FTO variants seem to respond well to lifestyle change, which is an encouraging piece of information. There are some recommendations such as eating smaller meals throughout the day, getting more calories from protein and less from fat, and increasing vegetable intake that can all help to manage weight. Daily physical activity is also key for promoting metabolic maintenance, along with decreased risk of heart disease and type II diabetes. The dietitians at Nutrigenetics Specialists can help run a nutrigenetics analysis to see if you may carry the FTO gene and other weight management-related genes, and teach you how to structure a nutrition plan that will bring out the best version of you! Click the link here to schedule an appointment today



  2. Sheikh AB, Nasrullah A, Haq S, et al. The Interplay of Genetics and Environmental Factors in the Development of Obesity. Cureus. 2017;9(7):e1435. Published 2017 Jul 6. doi:10.7759/cureus.1435


  4. Fawcett KA, Barroso I. The genetics of obesity: FTO leads the way. Trends Genet. 2010;26(6):266-274. doi:10.1016/j.tig.2010.02.006


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