Your Fat Genes

No long and lanky gene in your family? No worries. As emerging science suggests, your DNA isn’t your destiny – particularly when it comes to your weight.

A flashback to high school biology class. You learned that we’re each born with some 30,000 genes that we inherit from our parents. These genes are made up of DNA sequences that dictate everything from skin and hair color to height. Now, fast forward to today, when researchers have identified as many as 50 genes and DNA markers, including the FTO (“fat”) gene, that help explain why some people are more prone to excess weight gain.

As easy as it is to blame your weight struggles on this bad boy of the gene pool, for most, there’s no one gene that’s responsible. Fact is, a mere 5 percent of obese Americans are wired to be heavy due to a single gene defect that results in obesity. Most often, it’s an accumulation of multiple genetic markers that sets the stage for weight gain. When you have just a few variants, you’re not very much at risk of being overweight. But if you carry many them, you have a greater predisposition to becoming obese. That said, it’s a fact: Even if obesity runs in your family, a healthy lifestyle can help override “obesity” genes.

Geneticists have yet to agree upon how large a role genes play in weight fate (estimates run from 30 to 70 percent), but here’s something they do agree upon: You can improve your odds if you’re willing to make an effort.

Talk about a fitness fix: Even if you inherited the so-called fat genes, you can totally annihilate their effect with exercise.

Outwit your genes

While it’s true that those with undesirable variations of the FTO and other weight-related genes have a harder time losing weight than those without them who make similar diet choices, recent research has yielded really intriguing news: People with the FTO gene who exercise frequently actually become leaner than people without those variations. The science is telling us that if you exercise a lot, you can not only diminish but totally annihilate the negative effect of the FTO gene variation. Recent data published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine found the effect of the FTO gene on obesity risk to be nearly 30 percent less among physically active adults. One caveat: You may need to exercise more than others – as much as 90 minutes a day, compared to 30 minutes- to see meaningful results. Bottom line: These exciting findings are one more potent reason to slip on your sweats and work up a sweat.

Whatever role genes play in your weight fate, they’re not solo operators. There has been such an increase in the prevalence of obesity over the past 30 years. It is hard to explain it by genes alone. It has to be driven by the way we live. Some factors, including the positive changes you make when you commit to losing weight, are in your control. Others aren’t: The constant availability of caloric foods and beverages, large portion sizes, the overuse of cars, the absence of sidewalks and other obesity-favoring factors all greatly contribute to our adopting obesogenic [obesity-causing] behaviors. Fortunately, once you are aware of the obstacles between you and a healthier lifestyle, you can take steps to tackle them. Restaurant portions too large? Share an entrée. No sidewalks nearby? Find a track at a local school. Making small changes like these will help you take charge of your weight fate – and get the body you’ve always wanted.


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