The BBC reports that scientists have solved the riddle of why a fat gene, a genetic abnormality, causes one in six people to be at a 70% increased risk for obesity. Researchers had previously identified the “FTO” gene but had never figured out how it worked to cause excess fat. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. It showed that the FTO gene creates a double heap of trouble in that it increases ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone, and increases a person’s craving for fattening food. This is a major breakthrough in obesity gene research. It’s the first time it has been proven that genetics can cause obesity along with the understanding of how the genes operate to do so.
Contrary to what many people believe about obesity, the BBC reports that the disease is mostly familial, this is, inherited. While the current accepted “wisdom” about obesity runs along the line of blaming the afflicted person as being an “emotional eater,” new evidence suggestes that genetics plays a major role in the disease. According to the BBC:
There is a strong family link with obesity, and a person’s genetic code is thought to play a major role in the risk of them becoming overweight. People have two copies of the FTO gene – one from each parent – and each copy comes in a high and a low-risk form. Those with two-high risk copies of the FTO gene are thought to be 70% more likely to become obese than those with low-risk genes.
Dr. Rachel Batterham is the head of obesity research at University College London. She says that the problem lies in the brains of obese people and that they are pre-programmed to eat more. Their desire to eat seems to be unrelated to emotion. Rather, she says, they are born predisposed to be hungrier and therefore ingest a greater number of calories from fatty foods. “Their brain is set up to be particularly interested in anything to do with high-calorie food,” she says, and people with the gene are “biologically programmed to eat more.”
This new evidence flies in the face of the accepted treatment methods for obesity, including talk therapy. The book “It’s Not What You’re Eating, It’s What’s Eating You,” and countless other books that focus on how people are “emotional eaters” have pointed the finger of blame directly at the afflicted person. This line of thinking has traditionally ignored genetics as the cause of obesity.
Now, it seems those authors and mental health professionals may have to go barking up a different tree, as the evidence for a familial and genetic link to obesity continues to pile up. The new evidence echos what many obese people have known for a very long time- it’s not their fault. University of London professor Dr. Steven Bloom seems to corroborate this:
We know the tendency to overeat in a society with too much food and no need for exercise is inherited. Slowly we are discovering the factors which make us overweight and this study, encompassing not only demonstration of a higher level of hunger hormone, ghrelin, but also changes in the brain associated with ghrelin’s action, is an important step forward.
This obesity breakthrough shows that a genetic abnormality, present in a whopping one in six people, is at least partially responsible for raising obesity risk by 70%. Genetics cause obesity, just as many have suspected all along. This news understanding could pave the way for groundbreaking new treatments and one day, a cure.
By: Rebecca Savastio