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Obesity in The Genes

Posted on: Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Categories: Diet, Exercise, Fitness, Nutrition, Personal trainer

Your genetic makeup could mean that you are more likely to be obese according to a new study published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Data was collected on over 1000 people born in the early 1970s in Dunedin, New Zealand and followed the subjects for nearly 40 years. During this time, researchers investigated how 32 genetic markers for obesity effected growth.  Interestingly, these genetic markers are mutations that occurred around 100 years ago before obesity was widespread. The results of this study showed that children exhibiting this genetic risk were between 1.6 to 2.4 times more prone to become obese during adulthood than those without this high genetic risk. Furthermore, those people thought to have had an especially high risk of being obese adults were children who grew rapidly whereas children who grew more slowly had a lower tendency to become obese. However, it didn’t follow that this propensity for weight couldn’t be overturned.

Daniel Belsky, a Research Associate in Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University has emphasised that the genetic background of a person doesn’t mean their destiny is determined. Many children in this high risk genetic group did not become obese which highlights the fact that healthy lifestyle habits have a massive positive impact on levels of obesity.

The Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has stressed the complexity of obesity. In an editorial in the same journal he stated that the genes assessed in the research accounted for less than 2% of the disparity in body mass index (BMI), so genetic risks are only a very small part of the picture. The good news is there is scope for intervention. Genes influence the development of individuals, but they are expressed in an environmental context. Presently, the modern world has created an environment that encourages obesity and it is possible to address this no matter how strong the genetic risk is.

The investigation in New Zealand pinpointed factors that reduce the negative effects of the genetic risk. A healthy diet coupled with exercise lowers the chances of a child becoming obese during their whole lifespan, so inheriting a risk doesn’t mean that the future of an individual is written in stone. Moreover, it is never too late to start adopting healthier habits. Many studies into the effects of exercise on older populations have shown that increased activity at any stage in life yields encouraging results when it comes to health. Positive effects range from an improvement in physical health such as increased cardiovascular fitness, to better cognitive functioning.  Indeed, increased levels of activity in children are associated with higher IQs as well as improved strength and fitness.

As a result of the Obesity Epidemic across the UK personal trainers are flourishing. Many personal trainers have specialist qualifications, for example ‘Kids Fitness’ or ‘Fitness for Older Adults’ and it is therefore possible to have one trainer work with a whole family while addressing the individual needs within it.