Struggling to lose weight? Don’t blame your genes!

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Rubbish news of the day alert: new research suggests that the so-called obesity gene is not to blame for your inability to shift the pounds. Darn it!

When scientists revealed the existence of a ‘fat gene’ it provided some with a handy opportunity to attribute weight gain to their DNA. But recent research has revealed that anyone is able to lose weight through diet and exercise, which either offers hope to carriers of the gene or leaves them to bang out of get-out clauses. Because according to science the obesity gene is not tipping the scale against you in the battle of the bulge.

Carriers of the so-called ‘fat gene’ are known to be on average 6.6lb heavier and 70% more likely to be obese. But, while they are more likely to gain weight to begin with, the research reveals the same genes do not stop them actually losing the excess weight.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found people with the FTO gene have the same response to diet, exercise, and drug-based interventions as the rest of the population.

“You can no longer blame your genes,” says John Mathers, Professor of Human Nutrition at Newcastle University, who led the study. “Our study shows that improving your diet and being more physically active will help you lose weight, regardless of your genetic makeup.”

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Researchers used individual data from 9,563 adults who were enrolled in randomized controlled weight loss trials around the world to find out whether carrying the FTO gene affects how much weight people lose.

They found that carrying the risk version of the FTO gene had no effect on weight loss. “We were excited to find that people with the risk version of FTO respond just as well to weight loss interventions as everyone else,” says Professor Mathers.

“This is important news for people trying to lose weight as it means that diet, physical activity or drug-based weight loss plans will work just as well in those who carry the risk version of FTO.”

That means that, whether you’re trying to lose weight via diet, exercise, or even a drug-based program, you can expect to see results whether you carry the gene or not.

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The findings held true for both men and women, younger people and older people, and people of different ethnicities, though most people involved in the studies were white.

In a linked editorial, Dr. Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the causes of the obesity epidemic are multiple and complex, but current evidence suggests they have little to do with gene profiles.

She argued that, if we are to reverse the tide of obesity, a focus on personalized interventions based on genes “may not pay off, at least in the short term”.

Instead, she recommended, “a re-balancing of research towards whole systems approaches including environmental drivers may be of greater benefit to the population in the long term”.

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