If Fat Runs in Your Family, Can You Avoid It?


Fat gene photoAt some point you have to give into heredity. That milkshake is will always go straight to my thighs. I can’t remember the last time that my thighs didn’t touch. If I run a marathon, my abs get tight and my thighs grow mega muscles. And if I didn’t watch my diet with eagle eyes I suppose I would be pear shaped. 

My best friend is of a different breed. She holds extra weight in her belly and no matter how skinny her legs get, her tummy will always be a problem area. You can debate which make up is more ideal and I venture to say that those who are one way often wish they were the other and vice versa. 

But how do your genes play a role in your body weight? Is there a fat gene and if so, can you control it?

Weight Gain and Heredity

"Probably a current estimate is 30 to 60 percent of weight gain is heredity," said Michael L. Goran, PhD, professor of preventive medicine, physiology and biophysics at the University of Southern California's (USC) Keck School of Medicine in MyLifetime.

Dr. Goran refers to one study where two sets of twins were overfed the same amount of food and while one set gained weight the other set did not.

There are a number of genes that control weight gain but in 2007 a fat gene was discovered. It’s called the Fat mass and obesity-associated protein also known as alpha-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase FTO. One study found that carriers of the gene weighed between 2.6 and 6.6 pounds more than non-carriers. Research is still immature however, and there’s much more to be learned.

Researchers have also discovered a protein called perilipin that could have something to do with weight gain. 

"It coats the surface of fat that's stored in fat cells," said Andrew S. Greenberg, M., director of the Obesity and Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston in MyLifetime. "And its level seems to regulate the breakdown of fat." The more perilipin in your fat cells, the more fat that gets stored rather than broken down. 

Activity and the Fat Gene

But this isn’t to say that those with the gene are doomed to a life of being chunky because behavior and lifestyle also have a lot to do with weight. Our bodies are made for survival. They’re meant to work nearly 12 hours a day outside rather than sitting behind a desk filling in the gaps with huge meals. 

Another study reported in The New York Times found that being even mildly active had a big impact on carriers of the gene. 

Being physically active, in the new analysis, “reduced the effect of FTO by about 30 percent,” Dr. Loos says. While that still leaves 70 percent of the potentially fat-encouraging effect of the gene intact, she adds, the consequences of physical activity on the workings of this single gene seem to be substantial enough to perhaps allow someone who otherwise would become seriously overweight to maintain a normal waistline.

If fat runs in your family it’s no excuse to give up. Rather, it begs us for more effort. Be as active as you can during the day. Set an alarm at your desk reminding you to get up every hour. Walk around during conference calls, take walks at lunch, and workout each day. 

Photo: Pixland

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.









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