New research suggests that obesity may be largely genetic in as many as one-third of individuals who are overweight.
The finding, by a University of Illinois scientist who studied young Mexican college students, suggests a large number of individuals who struggle with weight have a genetic predisposition for obesity that they inherit from their parents.
"The students who inherited genetic risk factors from both parents were already 15.5 pounds heavier and 2 inches bigger around the waist than those who hadn't," said Margarita Teran-Garcia, a professor of food science and human nutrition who conducted the study, published online in the Open Journal of Genetics.
For the study, Teran-Garcia tracked overweight 251 students at the Mexican Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosi. The study participants were tested for variations in the so-called FTO gene, which has been associated with obesity, increased body mass index, and increased waist circumference — all of which increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Of the young adults tested, 15 percent had inherited the genetic risk from both parents. Another 20 percent had inherited risk from one parent. Sixty-five percent of the students in the study had no inherited genetic risk.
"If young people realize early that they have this predisposition, they can fight against it. If they are at risk for obesity," Teran-Garcia said. "Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise is even more important for them.”
Scientists believe "fat" genes may be influenced and counteracted lifestyle factors, she said.
"So even if you have this predisposition, you may be able to change the way those genes behave by eating the right foods and getting more exercise. These good habits are especially important for young people who have a genetic risk for obesity," she said.
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