Nine Genes That May “Snowball” Obesity Identified

Nine of the 37 genes known to modulate body mass in adults with European ancestry were found to have a “snowball effect.”

To put it another way, these nine genes make people put on more weight if they already have a high body mass index (BMI).

“It's similar to a tiny snow ball at a top of a hill that becomes bigger and bigger when rolling down the hill,” said senior author David Meyre, associate professor at McMaster University, and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Genetics of Obesity.

“The effect of these genes may be amplified by four times, if we compare the 10 percent of the population at the low end of the body mass index, compared to the 10 percent at the high end,” added Meyre.

In high-income countries, the general population’s burgeoning average body mass seems to have plateaued. However, extreme forms of obesity are still on the rise, and morbidly obese individuals are at high risk for chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

An unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and other lifestyle factors contribute substantially to obesity, but certain genetic factors are known to play a role as well. Now, researchers have identified nine genes that exacerbate weight gain in already large individuals, and make weight loss more difficult.

“These genes may, in part, explain why some individuals experience uncontrolled and constant weight gain across their life, despite the availability of different therapeutic approaches,” says Meyre. “The plausible explanation is that there are interactions between the snowball obesity genes and risk environmental factors.”

Meyre also states that the best strategy for those with high genetic obesity risk is to avoid excessive weight gain in the first place. “We have an important message of hope that the carriers of these genes, if they stay in the low end of body mass index through appropriate lifestyle, may minimize the effect of the snowball obesity genes.”

The McMaster University study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Source: McMaster University
Photo credit: Tony Alter

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