Is Obesity Genetic? – The Obesity Gene According to Science

Is obesity genetic? Of course, genetics has something to do about it, but does it necessarily mean that it would happen to you? Find out!

There are genetic changes in DNA that explain, in part, obesity. In this article we explain what the advances are and how they affect the treatment and prevention of obesity.

Historically, we could say that the history of the obesity gene dates back to 1962. The scientist in question is the geneticist James Neel, who postulated a hypothesis in this regard, which continues to be debated to this day.

James Neel wondered why a disease mainly associated with obesity, such as diabetes, had been perpetuated over time. The logical thing would have been that humans with this condition did not increase throughout the history of humanity.

To explain why diabetes continued and more and more people are affected, he proposed the existence of a gene. This gene would serve the human species to overcome the stages of famines, which were frequent in prehistory. Through the “thrifty gene” humans would accumulate extra fat to survive in times of famine.

According to James Neel, this obesity gene made sense in those moments of humanity. As history evolved, and there were fewer and fewer stages of generalized hunger in the world, the accumulation of fat became obesity and also a higher frequency of diabetes.

What was an advantage for our ancestors, and the possibility of survival, today is a disadvantage in an increasingly urbanized world, more sedentary and with greater availability of foods rich in fats and sugars.

The obesity problem

Obesity is a huge global problem. There is talk of a pandemic, that is, an epidemic that spreads throughout the world, crossing geographical borders.

It is classified as a chronic disease. The basis for its definition is the excess fat tissue in the body. The measure that doctors use to determine obesity is the body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated using a formula that divides body weight in kilograms over height in meters squared.

Statistically, 22% of the world’s adult population suffers from obesity. Some estimates are larger and estimate that a third of the world is obese, or at least has an overweight problem.

It is not only an aesthetic situation, far from it. Hence the importance of locating something like the obesity gene. Obesity is in association with other diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, in addition to affecting quality of life causing:

  • Social isolation.
  • Depression.
  • Sexual problems
  • Difficulties at work.

Is obesity genetic? – The current discovery

In 2007, there was a new discovery about the obesity gene. The scientists identified the FTO gene as associated with obesity. The experiments showed that, if this gene is defective, the body tends to store more energy than to use and burn it.

However, the genetic problem does not explain all obesity in all people. About 44% of Europeans carry it; not even half.

Other recent studies explained in more detail how the obesity gene alters the levels of a body hormone called ghrelin, better known as the hunger hormone. If there’s an alteration of the FTO gene, ghrelin overreacts, making high-fat foods more palatable.

Can you reverse genetics?

Scientific studies also agree on something: the obesity gene is not the only factor. Lifestyle is more prevalent in determining obesity, among other things. And also, the lifestyle itself is modifiable.

These are some points that we can take into account to combat genetics from what we have control over:

  • Exercise: the recommendation to perform more than 150 minutes of physical activity a week is still in force. In addition to preventing obesity, exercise helps prevent other chronic non-communicable diseases.
  • Healthy eating: it is essential to have a diet with the appropriate caloric content for the physical activity that you carry out. Avoid high-fat and extremely sugary foods.
  • Weight control: without obsessing over, weighing yourself from time to time helps you understand your body behavior to make the necessary modifications.
  • Constancy: changes in lifestyle must last over time. Persistence with exercise and a healthy diet gives results in the short, medium and long term.

Science does not stop investigating about it

In conclusion, genetics will continue to investigate, but we are still far from drugs that can regulate the FTO gene and the ghrelin hormone. The obesity gene exists. However, it is not the only determinant of a person’s overweight. Lifestyle, exercise habits and a healthy diet are the true pillars of obesity prevention and treatment.

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