Researchers Isolate Obesity Gene
> 4/13/2007 3:04:03 PM

It's no secret that some people find it much harder than others to maintain a healthy body mass, even while making concerted efforts to keep the weight off. But in what appears to be a definitive update on a familiar story, researchers in the United Kingdom have, for the first time, succeeded in isolating a particular gene that predisposes individuals to obesity.

In a fashion similar to the discovery of another genetic link to obesity drawn one year ago, researchers studying diabetes noticed an apparent connection between the gene, called FTO, and a perceived propensity toward weight gain. A certain variation of the gene was associated with a greater instance of Type 2 diabetes as well as excess body fat. One of the most significant aspects of the study is the fact that a large portion of the public carries this gene. Around 50 percent of the 38,000 Europeans studied had one copy of the errant gene, while 16 percent had two. Those with one copy are, on average, three pounds heavier than those in the control group, where those with two copies have more than seven extra punds. According to the study, dual-copy status leaves an individual 67 percent more likely to be obese and 40 percent more likely to be diabetic.

The study did not consider individual eating and exercise habits, but its authors believe that the genetic factor goes beyond lifestyle, explaining why some people , particularly in youth, can seemingly eat what they want and lead sedentary lifestyles without repercussion, where some spend hours at the gym obsessing over weight they cannot lose. The study's resulting data is also limited by the fact that participants were strictly white and European, leaving open the possibility of differing genetic tendencies among those of other ethnic persuasions. Medical experts and those suffering from obesity have long suspected an inherited tendency toward weight gain, and recent years have seen many new and potentially important developments in weight-related science, including genes that control the body's response to and maintenance of fat and the role of insulin in regulating body weight.

The scope and consistency of this research indicates that it does, in fact, constitute a significant development in ongoing efforts to uncover the genetic influence on body mass. Researchers are unsure as to the exact nature of the relationship between FTO and obesity, but further research will give them the opportunity to more precisely outline the connection. For now, pertinent medical advice remains the same: eat well in moderate portions and practice regular exercise. Upcoming breakthroughs might make it easier for overweight individuals to overcome these genetic variables, but lifestyle will remain the equation's most important factor.

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