Research into the causes of obesity continues to fuel the debate over “nature versus nurture,” and likely will for some time. Are some of us more prone to being overweight by virtue of our genetic heritage? Or does lifestyle, including diet and activity level, largely determine one’s girth? Well, on both counts . . . yes.
Based on numerous studies presented at the annual conference of the Obesity Society, as well as prior research, there are a number of genes that can influence one’s risk of becoming overweight. However, there is also strong evidence that, in this arena, genes alone do not determine the destiny of one’s body mass. Behavior matters. Here’s how.
The first genetic mutation associated with obesity (on the “FTO” gene) was discovered in 2007. Since then, several studies have examined the impact of exercise on those who carry this mutation, and the results look somewhat encouraging. Examining over 200,000 individuals in North America and Europe, these studies indicate that people with the FTO gene mutation who live sedentary lifestyles are at 30% greater risk of becoming obese than their physically active counterparts. Translation? Regardless of whether your genes are conspiring against you in your weight loss/control efforts, you can do something about it. Regular exercise is the ticket.
Of course, diet continues to be a significant contributing factor. Even if one exercises daily for at least 30 minutes, as most experts suggest, a high fat, calorically dense diet can nullify the positive impact of more physical activity. For most, fast food is the culprit. Also, the kind of physical activity one pursues can make a difference, as well. A combination of aerobic exercise (think running, swimming, bicycling, brisk walking, etc.) and resistance training (weight lifting, in particular) shows the greatest impact on weight, whether in losing extra pounds or in keeping them off.
Bottom Line: When it comes to weight, genetic factors matter, but they don’t dictate. We still have the ability to keep the “fat gene” influence in check. Eat healthy and keep moving.